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Ella and Louis. Sam and Dave. Lennon and McCartney. Pop culture is littered with duos who, when the talents match, combust with spontaneity and produce magic. Now there’s a new partnership to add to the hall of fame: Rodrigo and Gabriela. This pair of acoustic-guitar- strumming Mexicans have literally come up from the street.
They started out playing electric guitars in heavy rock bands, but strumming together and playing Spanish-style music at various places for cash they eventually found themselves on the streets of Dublin as a busking act.
That experience has left them with a white-hot act, a Dublin-Mexican brogue and more than a hint of the Irish bar room vernacular – the F-word is a perhaps too frequent friend in their onstage banter and audience address. “We don’t have a set list,” Rodrigo told the audience, “because it gets too f**king boring so you’ll have to shout out what you want to hear.”
The packed auditorium – the second night of three sell-out shows – went wild, laughing at the audacious expletive and then sent a battery of requests: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. “It’s too early for that,” retorts Rodrigo and strikes up a strumming pattern in perfect synchronicity with his guitar sparring partner, Gabriela.
Perched up rostra, the pair – dressed in jeans and T-shirts – rocked out with music so honed it had a razor-sharp perfection. Theirs is a powerhouse of intricate sound: while one of them strums the other flies over the strings with dextrous fretwork.
And strumming doesn’t adequately describe the backing sound. Bare fingers driven by a fluid wrist spun out wonderful cross rhythms pinned down by the player’s hand hitting the guitar body. The small instrument sounds like a giant drum kit and the thumping sound is never too big to lose the detail of the charged riffs that the lead guitar sprinkles on top.
Some might call it flamenco, but it is nothing like it. The only real resemblance to that style is that it is played on nylon-strung strummed guitars. The real roots of this music are rock. And to show the influence, peppered throughout were musical quotes from Guns’n’Roses, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and, no doubt, but not quite in this reviewer’s vocabulary, homage to heavy metal rock groups Anthrax and Metallica – cited by the duo as influences.
“This song was written by f**kin’ Christina Aguilera,” joked Rodrigo and then broke into the opening chord sequence of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. He pushed the microphone towards the audience. Most artists have to work like mad to get an audience to sing along, but this duo give their all from the off and have the punters eating out of their hands and apt to add anything they can to the show. The Pink Floyd Rodrigo Gabriela Shepherd’s Bush Impromptu Choir made a gorgeous sound, punctuated by Rodrigo’s mean slide guitar as he ran a beer bottle up and down his guitar and, when he had finished, took a theatrical swig.
The tempo of the show was perhaps a little unrelenting, tempered only by a short interlude – “the acoustic bit” Rodrigo jibed – where softer dynamics were attempted and Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and another Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” made an appearance. They weren’t quite as expertly delivered as the rock riffs more aptly under their fingers. As if to prove the point they give the crowd a fine vocal-less version of Led Zep’s “Stairway to Heaven”, and gave Jimmy Page a run for his money.
Theirs is a cross-bred sound of rock’n’roll, cabaret, showmanship, busking street cred and Latin American attitude and it works. You just have to admire their pluck.