Mexican ex-metalheads rock the Vic

By Salom Teshale

I should start off by saying that I know very little about playing the guitar, so I will use no technical terms in this review. Most of my descriptions of Rodrigo y Gabriela will consist of terms like “sweet” and “totally awesome.”

Rodrigo y Gabriela are old bandmates from Mexico City, veterans of the same thrash-metal group. After playing acoustic covers of such traditional classics as “Angel of Death” for tourists in hotels, they decided to migrate to Ireland and try their luck there. Busking in Dublin and around Europe for a few years eventually got them a record deal, famous fans like Damien Rice, and tours across America, Europe, and the United Kingdom. They arrived, finally, at the Vic last Friday to play their unusual blend of Latin music filtered through metal sensibilities before an ecstatic sold-out crowd. The cheering audience was an eclectic mix of older couples, metalheads, teenagers, and dancing 20-somethings, indicating the wide appeal of the group.

Though I’d heard and enjoyed some of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s music off their website, their songs are even better ßlive. Rodrigo y Gabriela play ridiculously fast acoustic guitar that mixes the intricate rhythms of Latin music with a driving rhythm section, and their playing is even more impressive when you can see the duo nod their heads and stamp their feet to the music, creating an exuberant energy that fills the room.

Rodrigo’s picking, to someone like me who knows little about the guitar, is just stunning—his fingers move incredibly deftly as he plays, shifting from delicate melodies to metal riffs in a few seconds within a piece, a technique featured in their cover of Metallica’s “Orion.”

Gabriela plays rhythmic guitar, which is a total understatement. Like Rodrigo, she plays quickly, beating the guitar quickly in between strums. At various points during the show, live video of Rodrigo’s and Gabriela’s hands is projected on a screen behind the duo so that the crowd can watch them play. Their playing is so fascinating that you can’t actually stop watching. While they freely admit their metal and rock influences, as evidenced by the various covers they played, Rodrigo and Gabriela are also skilled composers, as was heard with songs like the insanely catchy “Tamacun” and ominous “Diablo Rojo.”

Rodrigo and Gabriela are also immensely likable people. Gabriela tells long stories about their travels from Mexico to Europe between songs in an endearingly nervous voice, ending her missives with “see you soon,” while Rodrigo provides a laid-back counterpoint. Their relaxed, unpretentious attitude makes it seem as if they were playing in a smaller, more intimate venue than the Vic. In addition to playing their own instrumental tracks, Rodrigo and Gabriela also played well received covers of “Wish You Were Here” (complete with slide guitar played with Red Stripe bottleneck) and a bit of “Hotel California.” Those two songs drew some of the biggest cheers of the night and induced crowd sing-alongs almost immediately.

The night ended with a reworked rendition of “Stairway to Heaven,” showcasing Rodrigo y Gabriela’s playing at its best. Before the show, the MC came on stage to tell the crowd he wanted to see “what the luckiest people in Chicago looked like”; he was only being a little hyperbolic. Rodrigo y Gabriela, already huge overseas, are set to become the next big thing here in the U.S.—but unlike many of the bands that get tagged with that label, their skills merit attention that should last well beyond their initial debut.