Originally published in Third Coast Review.
Fluidity broken up by a percussive hand is the style of Rodrigo y Gabriela, a flamenco guitarist duo from Mexico City. They hit the stage Friday at the Chicago Theatre with a mum crowd in awe, excited each time Gabriela Quintero’s right hand bounced off the body of her acoustic guitar. The technique involved in this pair is one to marvel at, their hands fast as lightning. Rodrigo Sánchez keeps the melody flowing as Quintero hits the beats that she wants her audience to feel in their pounding feet.
Quintero told Reverb Nation that the reason behind the pair’s decision to use one of their hands as a drum kit was based on the fact that they simply didn’t have drums while performing on the street. The two lived in Ireland for eight years as a means to meet a wider range of genres than what they were introduced to while living in Mexico. In fact, the duo met its opening act while busking in Ireland, a band who goes by the name of Hudson Taylor.
The Chicago Theatre has top of the line acoustics and that explains why artists like Regina Spektor and Rodrigo y Gabriela excel, as they let their one acoustic instrument do a good portion of the talking. Hudson Taylor brought in layers of piano, piccolo flute, fiddle and guitar, whose voices all floated through the venue. They sang.
That’s part of the excitement in waiting for a musical act like Rodrigo y Gabriela; you know you won’t have to manually separate each instrumental part yourself. The duo takes after bands like Pantera and Metallica, whose allure partly is their technical prowess. The metal genre is composed of guitar notes in particular that carry a song all the way through, rather than relying on the star power a great solo could deliver.
Sánchez and Quintero took a few moments throughout the hour and a half performance to express what Mettavolution is about. That’s the name of the pair’s most recent album, and Sánchez defined the title, a word that mashes together “metta” and “evolution.” “Metta” is the meditative state that produces compassion and benevolence. That’s the concept the duo hopes to instill in its listener, among other issues like anxiety and contact with the shadows where we hide our inner struggles.
Quintero attributed part of their inspiration to the Celts, who “bring light to the darkness to decorate the darkness” and to heal. The title track of the album followed, with an image of a tree surrounded by an upright ring of fire projected onto the backdrop. Their music is meant to literally illuminate our most natural state as human beings, and that’s where the sense of urgency transfers into the strings on stage. The musicians remind themselves of the story that brought them and us to those particular notes and that rhythm.
And the two also later explained that “Electric Soul” tells the story of the biotechnical configuration, the effort to give oneself compassion and probably even respect. The piece builds up to a layered point of composition, perhaps an acceptance for one’s true feelings.
But one of the major crowd pleasers of the night was Rodrigo y Gabriela’s cover of “Echoes” by Pink Floyd. They explained that putting together this piece as their own was a challenge, but that they felt they had to do it. That’s not just as avid Pink Floyd fans, too, but with the need to evoke the meaning of “echoes,” as told by Pink Floyd, and as it ties with this album’s message.
And this performance of the song certainly did that objective justice. During one musical break, Gabriela didn’t wince at the roaring audience. She instead jolted us back to the song with the bass vibrating from her fingers gliding down the neck and into the body of the guitar. That took us right back into the eerie “Echoes.”
A language so beautiful discusses our most taboo subjects on a stage shared by just two people, just four hands and a number of instruments intertwined between two guitars.