Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley
This is one duo whose music is equally as interesting as their story. Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero began in Mexico City and traveled to Ireland to make their way in music. From busking to officially breaking into the music scene, they garnered a following devoted enough to guarantee their success. Selling out Chicago’s Riviera Theater was no shock for what are now accomplished musicians, but what may have been surprising is the utter joy that accompanied their obvious talent.
Like fellow musician José González, Rodrigo y Gabriela are incredibly proficient in guitar, capable of performing with daunting layers of intricacy. Unlike González, however, you get a much fuller sense of personality with Rodrigo y Gabriela, which makes their performance richly entertaining and more complete. Often, Gabriela seemed blissful while Rodrigo kneeled to play or went out to the lip of the stage.
What all three musicians have in common though is how thrilling it is to watch their fingers move on their guitars. For those in the back, or in the balcony, who weren’t able to see, these motions were emphasized with large silhouetted visuals behind the pair, making for a vivid visual setting. Needless to say, they also showed a great sense of chemistry between them, with Gabriela often looking at Rodrigo intently or with a lovely smile. No doubt this connection helps keep their guitar rhythms so accurate.
Rodrigo y Gabriela draw from an eclectic array of songs to construct both covers and medleys of various recognizable guitar riffs. The pair has been called by some “Flamenco Metal,” which does partially describe their sound. Their 100-minute long set felt fluid and dynamic, each song rushing into another seamlessly and with very little banter. The prominent riff from The White Stripes' “Seven Nation Army” got some applause early on. From classical music to metal, it was also heartening to see such a diverse crowd enjoying an equally diverse set of musical references.
Overall, their set weighed most heavily on their third release, 2009’s 11:11, which was very well received by their fans. When Rodrigo announced that they’d be focusing on playing songs from this album, he got an enthusiastic response. The most exciting surprise of the night, however, was when they brought out Metallica’s current bass player, Robert Trujillo, to perform "Orion" with them as a trio. He helped elevate the song to epic proportions. Rodrigo’s use of a beer bottle for a slide also succeeded in creating a spooky sort of effect.
The sold out crowd was active throughout the night, spontaneously clapping and dancing as the group's dexterity created a landscape of sound that often evolved from gentle musings to intense anthems. It was easy to feel that their proficient renditions were complete even without the well known vocals that originally accompanied many of the songs. Rewarding the crowd with an encore that included Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” they brought the night to a satisfying conclusion.