Rodrigo Y Gabriela And Natalia Lafourcade At Annenberg Space For Photography, Saturday July 29th 2017
It’s difficult to not have your mind blown away when watching Rodrigo y Gabriela play live, the Mexican duo masters the guitar with such ease and grace that you may completely forget about the ridiculous technical work behind it, and you watch with a growing fascination for Gabriela’s hands running along the neck of her guitar. Her fingers, as well as Rodrigo’s, look like they could be at a million places at the same time, as she also taps the wood of her guitar to make a rhythmic sound that accompanies all their compositions.
I saw them yesterday as they were headlining a new Sound in Focus concert presented by KCRW inside the beautiful Annenberg Space for Photography, and as the night was under the spell of Mexico, the famous Mexican singer Natalia Lafourcade opened the show with a moving set filled with traditional music sang in Spanish. Lafourcade is one of the most successful singers in the Latin America pop rock scene, she is a multi Grammy winner and nominee – her album ‘Hasta La Raiz’ won US Best Latin Rock, Urban Alternative album and numerous Latin Grammys – and she is an accomplished singer, composer, and producer. To add to her resume, she has sung on the soundtracks of numerous movies, has participated in tributes to famous Latino composers and performers, and she supports many humanitarian causes,… in one word, she is a total legend in the Latin world at the young age of 33. With her last album ‘Musas’, she continues her romance with the classics of the Latin American songbook, with exquisite interpretation of songs by Violeta Parra, Simon Diaz, Agustín Lara (a Mexican legendary early 20th century lyricist and performer), mixed with songs of her own.
Of course, performing in Los Angeles, she had plenty of Latino fans in the crowd and she appeared on stage with a traditional braid-crown hairdo, surrounded by the guitar duo Los Macorinos (who are now in their 80s) among other musicians, and exulting a charisma way beyond her young age. She is an old soul, as she injects life into enduring and nostalgic songs that could easily be forgotten in this very busy world of pop-rock-hip-hop… But don’t dare calling Natalia old fashioned, I was amazed by this young crowd adoring her, snapping fingers and singing along, even screaming her name with passion and a drunk enthusiasm! The songs are bright and heartfelt, and even if I don’t speak Spanish, they talk to the heart with a music infused by pop, jazz, bossa nova, Mexican folklore, and the delicate and touching son jarocho, the music of Veracruz played with a tiny guitar, which inspired Ritchie Valens’ ‘La Bamba and many songs of Los Lobos.
She was mostly singing her melancholic blue songs with a lot of emotion and an expressive delivery, but she also took a guitar for a few, while always addressing the crowd in Spanish between the songs. This music is obviously not my native culture, the language is not my own, but it’s really not difficult to get drawn to the beauty and poignancy of the music and Natalia’s beautiful soprano voice. She is a subtle interpret and produces tons of emotion when she sings her iconic ballads with a lot of heart and soul, while the music undeniably carries joy surrounded by a tragico-romantic aura, and a passion that brings to mind Frida Kahlo writing on her deathbed ‘Viva la vida’.
Rodrigo y Gabriela took the stage with their stormy guitars and barely let us breathe for a second. They are only two on stage, and they only play two acoustic guitars but the amount of noises, notes, sounds, nuances and genres these two can produce is mind-boggling. Is there actually anything they can’t do during their genre-bending, nuevo-flamenco-jazz-folk-instrumental-metal fusion?
They brought fire to anything they fiercely played and this, despite Gabriela’s immobile position in a wheel chair due to her healing foot that she broke last month. A Rodrigo y Gabriela performance is music without lyrics, but the real dialogue is happening between the guitars, which respond to each other, intertwine their myriad of chord changes, and take music complexity to a staggering level.
They are currently celebrating the tenth year anniversary of their self-titled LP, and they played their famous ‘Tamacun’ toward the end of their set, but they basically mixed new and old songs (they are in the middle of a recording session of a new one) during a devilish set of fast-as-speed-light guitar work, no wonder they have a popular song entitled ‘Diablo Rojo’. How is this even possible? I asked myself several times during their set of guitar virtuosity. Watching them play live is certainly even more impressive than you can imagine and I particularly enjoyed all these flamenco-inspired rhythmic tracks, played with such frenzy that your mind can barely follow anything.
But I don’t know what is the most surprising with Rodrigo and Gabriela, their astonishing talent or their story? They come from heavy metal, as Rodrigo explained, and after dropping everything, they left Mexico City to test their chance across their country then in Dublin, Ireland, out of all places! They busked in the streets, ‘Some fucking amazing times’ as Rodrigo put it, and got their break after been discovered and offered an opening slot by Damien Rice. Their amazing career took off, they have now gone international, gave an intimate performance at the White House for Barack and Michelle Obama in 2010, and they have just finished a European tour.
Each chord of their music is passionate, incorporating a variety of style and influences, and if you can definitively hear hard rock and metal influences in many of their compositions, they finally played their cover of Metallica’s ‘Orion’, but the (almost) disappointing part of this, is that Robert Trujillo would have joined them on stage if Metallica hadn’t been busy with another bigger gig that same night at the Rose Bowl, as Rodrigo explained.
Their set was a trip from the indie-rock-finger-picking-infused ‘Fram’, to the stomping bluesy-atmospheric ‘The Soundmaker’, to even an astonishing cover of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’,… ‘This is a good time to sing the song,’ said Rodrigo, while the vocals were provided by the crowd at unison.
I wasn’t familiar with their music beside one or two tracks I had heard on the radio, but they immediately appeared charming, incredibly talented and animated by a mighty spirit. When I think about all the equipment some bands bring on stage to play, and when I think about what these two were able to do, from metal riffs to wah-pedal effects, bluesy or funky vibes, and this with nothing else than two guitars and an incredible ability for virtuosic acrobatics.