Rodrigo Y Gabriela
@ Leeds Met
It's a Monday night and it's a band that get almost no radio play - surely the Met is going to be half-full? Especially with James Yorkston and his dirges on support.... But, no, the hall is almost full, though this isn't a crowd for squeezing tightly into a moshpit. It's a mixed crowd - lots of all ages though tending to the greyer end and I don't feel old tonight.
So, who are Rodrigo Y Gabriela? The way they tell it later is they are the remnants of a failed heavy metal band from Mexico, who took to playing background music in beach restaurants, sneaking in acoustic versions of Slayer and Anthrax numbers ("say, what is that tune, young lady?" "It's an old Mexican melody" "Ah, how lovely"). Once they had the wherewithal they bought a ticket to Dublin for no very good reason. With an album selling well under their belts, the duo are chuffed. They even seem happy to be playing this peculiar venue. It's all standing and I think I'd rather be part of an energetic seated crowd than a not-quite-rock crowd standing. The crowd are amazingly enthusiastic though, clapping along, whooping and whistling. Then again, Gabriela is hardly shy and retiring herself (though Rodrigo mostly smiles quietly). She gets chatty, waving devil horns and peppering every utterance with 'fook' and 'fooking'. It sounds much cuter coming from a diminutive Mexican woman.
The stage is nicely done - a shifting coloured backdrop and twin chairs, raised up high. Two mic stands turn out to be cameras, projecting wide-angled views from the tuning nuts down the fret board up onto the backing sheet. The sound is great - guitars miked up to highlight the percussive effects of fingers on the boards. Feet, too, are miked to give a thumpy beat. Soon Rodrigo proves adept at the Profanisaurus - "Normally we play fooking sets, tonight we don't fooking want to". Though they seem to know what comes next quite well….. He turns the guitar over and it becomes a drum. Rhythms are complex and there are lots of 'wow, how do they do that?' moments. Sometimes he sets up scratching or whistling sounds and everyone's neck cranes for a look. Gagriela goes for the very speedy and flashy effects then he chips in some lovely melodic runs once in a while.
"That was fooking quite loco" says Gabriela. She consults a roadie and I like to imagine she says "my arm won't stop and my fooking guitar gets faster and faster". Problem sorted, Rodrigo tells us we are the greatest audience this tour (oh, yeah?) and they play a gentle and straight 'Wish You Were Here', resting their fingers a little while the word-perfect crowd provide the vocals. A cover of Desmond and Brubeck's 'Take Five' follows pointlessly, allowing the audience to wander and chatter. (Though sustaining an hour's full attention for instrumental music is a rare achievement in a venue like this.) Dropping into the photo pit to deliver a medley of metal covers is cute but foolish and we are relieved when they hop back up, quarter of an hour later, to round up with a handful of more engaging tunes. It's been a surprising and charming evening in the wrong venue and an hour and a half has gone past, mostly with verve, and always with flash and vigour. A final cover sends us home - a straight and prosaic 'Stairway To Heaven' takes off briefly for a latin 'bustle in the hedgerows' and ends too soon.
This was a different experience for your jaded critic – a duo that play with verve and fun, with a very real sense of dynamics and a professionalism that belies their ‘happy amateurs’ smokescreen.