Rodrigo y Gabriela perform for 9,000 people at Red Rocks
(this image from R&G’s Facebook photos, all others are mine)
A couple years ago we attended the first Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We had picked up a good spot at one of the side stages and we enjoying our time away from the chaos of the main stages. Exhausted by even the mere mention of venturing back into the sea of people, I declined the invitation to go check out Rodrigo y Gabriela by one of my friends. To be honest, I had never even heard of Rodrigo y Gabriela and it just didn’t sound like something I would be interested in.
Last Friday night I made up for that mistake by taking my wife to sit 3rd row for this incredible duo at Red Rocks. If you are like me a few years back and have never heard of Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero, then you are missing out…and are probably in the minority now. Ever since they released their last album, 11:11 (a tribute to 11 artists that most influenced them), they seem to be everywhere. Music festivals, late night talk shows and now headlining their largest show to date…a sold-out crowd of 9,000 people at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre. And I have to say, I doubt there is a better place in the world to experience their brand of fast, rhythmic acoustic music.
3rd row at Red Rocks is a completely different experience. It is one of those venues that always feels intimate because you feel like you’re sharing an amazing space with the artist, good friends and nature. But from the 3rd row, it really is about the artist and the rock backdrop. And Friday night’s show utilized that rock background better than any other artist I have seen there. Black and white projections of the artists, long dark shadows against the red rocks and no screen or lights to hide the natural beauty.
Australian artist, Xavier Rudd, opened the night with the band Izintaba. I am not familiar with most of Xavier‘s work, but his Jack Johnson meets Paul Simon style backed by Izintaba, gave the set a Rusted Root feel. They were the perfect opener for what was to come.
When Rodrigo y Gabriela took the stage I had a slight fear that I would get bored watching two people with guitars perform a full set. But those fears vanished as soon as they started playing. I became entranced in Gabriela‘s hand movements from the very beginning. Her fingers plunk the string of her guitar so fast that they become a blur of flesh, almost like she was born without bones in her wrist. The only time I have ever seen anything like it was when I saw Joanna Newsom open for Björk. Joanna’s fingers move the same way across her harp. The only time Gabriela’s hands slow down are when she slaps and pounds on the guitar causing bass to ripple through the amphitheatre…causing you to actually feel the music as it thump, thump, thumps through your body.
Rodrigo is a talent all his own as well. While Gabriela stole my attention as well as my heart…Rodrigo impressed with a solo that ended with Cliff Burton‘s intro to Whiplash. You might not expect Metallica from a duo from Mexico City who got their start in Ireland, but they both used to play in thrash bands and metal has been a huge influence. They also performed Orion from Master of Puppets.
I would be lying if I said that the original songs did not start bleeding into each other. We started to get a little antsy as the night went on and had a hard time discerning one song from another, but they alleviated this problem with 3 guests. The first was Shankar, a violinist who had influenced both Rodrigo and Gabriela and who added a whole new dimension to the show. Watching the 3 of them perform was almost spiritual and I couldn’t help but think that performances like this are what Red Rocks was made for.
The second guest was Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine. Zack was there for one reason and one reason only…to speak out against the Arizona immigration law. Luckily, they continued to jam while he was speaking, making the soapbox speech bearable. And although I do agree with what Zack was saying, I’m glad he rewarded us for listening by performing a rendition of Bomb Track! The timing was perfect and really woke the audience up and got them ready for the rest of the show.
Toward the end of the night they brought out the last guest, the latin jazz artist Al Di Meola. This was about 11:30pm or so and his mellow performance was great but it had been a long day and night and it was time for us to go. We walked out around 11:45 and called it a night. While I can’t claim this was my favorite show of the year, it was one of my best nights at Red Rocks…a night where I saw some of the purest, raw talent I have seen in a long time.
Video via media310