Shepherds Bush Empire, 3 November 2010
Shepherds Bush Empire gathered an eclectic, expectant and seemingly laid-back audience of all ages tonight. The cause is the second night in a row of five concerts from Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriel. They are musicians bordering on virtuosic, creating a style of intensely rhythmic, energetic ‘new flamenco’. To that, they add elements of jazz, tango and heavy metal, the root of their musical interest, which may come as a surprise.
This is definitely music to be experienced live.
The crowd listens in a good-humoured manner to Trio Skolnick: Alex Skolnick’s New York project of drums, guitar and a double-bass, experimenting with a range of musical styles from spaghetti-western to jazz and rock. As a warm-up act, it’s all slightly disorientating, even if some numbers gear up a bit more enthusiasm than others from the arm-crossing, pint-holding bunch.
Finally, a casually dressed Rodrigo and Gabriela appear, sitting down on the rather bizarre props of oriental benches and cushions. Fortunately, the ‘set’ is of minute importance to the music and is easily forgettable. After a quiet beginning, the wild rhythms pick up and the audience is led into pieces such as ‘Santo Domingo’ and ‘Hora Zero’. From the two guitars, a massive range of instrumental sounds are produced, including more traditional flamenco styles. It is especially Gabriela’s percussive use of the guitar that is absolutely striking.
She hits, knocks and slaps the guitar in a multitude of ways to produce sounds never to be expected from the instrument alone, supporting the more melodious lines of Rodrigo. This is the reason why, after a year’s touring, they had to cancel their tour of the US – the strain of the playing was beginning to cause her permanent damage. Luckily, there were no signs of weakness in this concert.
The constant sense of perfect communication between these two musicians is evident, a chemistry that draws all attention to them. Once in a while they pick up the microphone and talk in a genuine, humble way to the audience. In particular, Gabriela’s charming little spoken interludes create a temporary warm atmosphere.
Yes, temporary. It almost seems that the musicians are in a parallel world of peace and love of music. Difficult to imagine that with a permission to do ‘crazy shit’ (as told by Gabriela), much of the audience is too busy radiating hostility amongst each other, concerned with a 20/20 vision of the stage. Grown men in leather jackets, pregnant ladies and cuddling couples are all involved.
It is a bizarre world down in the stalls, not only due to the human attendees but the electric ones as well; the air conditioning from above seems to be picking up an exhausting breeze from the ocean.
Despite this, the energy and intensity of the music never falters. A jam session with Alex Kolnick is a highlight, as are the last two pieces of the set, ‘Tamacun’ among them, meant to get the crowd dancing uninhibitedly. Of course, with this crowd, the chances are lower than with your average fun-loving group of music fans but the atmosphere picks up.
Yet it’s a far cry from how I experienced a concert of theirs for the first time. During a festival in Western Australia, in a hot, dry summer evening, Rodrigo and Gabriela surprised a whole mass of unknowing festival goers and created a scene of mad dancing and cheering.
It is the beauty of concerts that they are individual and ephemeral. Yet these musicians would have deserved an audience less keen to harass their neighbour and more involved in the experience of the electrifying music.