Fresh off a European tour, Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela brought foot-tapping Latin rhythms and metal energy to Radio City Music Hall last Friday (Apr. 29), joined by surprise guest Robert Trujillo of Metallica.
Lead guitarist Rodrigo Sánchez and rhythm guitarist Gabriela Quintero play traditional nylon string acoustic guitars, but their style is hardly orthodox. Sánchez plays melodies at a blazing speed — using a pick, as is conventional in rock music — while Gabriela’s distinctive rhythmic approach uses traditional flamenco and folk techniques like triplet strumming and “rasgueado.” With roots in thrash metal, samba and flamenco, the pair brings unparalleled speed and percussive quality to its playing, and the contrast between their individual styles results in them sounding more like a trio with a phantom drummer.
On this night, Rodrigo y Gabriela played a balanced mix of songs from their latest album, “11:11,” as well as old favorites. “11:11” and set opener “Hanuman” was followed by “Diablo Rojo,” a lightning-fast jam from the pair’s self-titled third studio album. After a few “thank yous” and some topical references to the Icelandic volcano eruption that nearly grounded them in Europe, they picked back up with “Triveni,” which saw Sánchez putting down his guitar halfway through the number to accompany on cajón (a versatile Afro-Peruvian drum resembling a wooden crate.)
The performance also left plenty of room for crowd participation. Quintero and Sánchez supplied percussion by expanding on a flamenco technique called “golpe” (“hit,” in Spanish), emphatically pounding their guitar tops as a way of accenting the beat. Equally impressive was their onstage humility — the duo paused several times to thank fans for their continuing support despite an absence of mainstream radio exposure.
An untitled new song by Sánchez was dedicated to guest Palestinian musicians Le Trio Joubran. “This is a piece I wrote,” he said, “but their own pieces are much better.” The Joubran brothers soon joined Rodrigo y Gabriela on fretless, 11-string instruments called ouds (a Middle Eastern variant of the European lute). Rodrigo y Gabriela also paid homage to the ’70s Indian jazz fusion band Shakti and invited guitarist and opener and guitarist Alex Skolnick for “Atman,” in tribute to the late Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott.
The real showstopper, however, came when Metallica’s bassist took the stage. Quintero prefaced by saying that she and Sánchez had intended to link up with Trujillo in Europe, but their plans were foiled when “the f—ing volcano did it again.” The performance that followed more than made up for those missed jam sessions. The three started off with an appropriately metallic jam and, after a teasing string of notes from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” broke into an epic rendition of Metallica’s “Orion.”
Rodrigo y Gabriela’s set closed out with Wah effects and even some beer bottle slide guitar, as they roped in funk elements on the Jimi Hendrix-inspired show closer, “Buster Voodoo.” Fans watching seemed to be torn between clapping or throwing up the devil’s horns in a show of allegiance, but either move was a fitting response to the virtuosic rocking that was on display all night.
Here is Rodrigo y Gabriela’s setlist:
Untitled (with Le Trio Joubran)
Gabriela Quintero solo
“Atman” (with Alex Skolnick of the Alex Skolnick Trio)
Rodrigo Sánchez solo
“Savitri” (Shakti cover)
“Orion” (Metallica cover, with Robert Trujillo of Metallica)