Rodrigo y Gabriela

Live Review | Rock City, Nottingham | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Rock City in Nottingham is a foreboding place when you’re used to coffee bars and folk club environs.  The gentlemen who stand at the door and take your tickets from you are all very much alike, bomber jacket, Hell’s Angels t shirt, black denim jeans, single gold earring, curious folds of flesh at the back of their shaved heads, built like brick shit houses.  Brothers?  I doubt it.  I shouldn’t judge.  They’ve all probably got lovely kids at home who they adore.  Why such extremes are taken at any venue where James Yorkston is opening is a mystery to me.  James, born in Kingsbarns, Fife, now resident in Edinburgh, is a gentle soul.  An apparent vegan (he allegedly turned down £10,000 for the use of one his songs in a television advertisement for Butter).  James sat on a chair upon a platform, upon the stage, presumably making him feel even more vulnerable than he already looked.  He reminds me of a Woodstock-era Tim Hardin with a bit of Charles Kennedy thrown in.  I’m sure James Yorkston’s usual audience is quiet and gentle and appreciative, but not here at Rock City.  They were loud, obnoxious and rude, shouting above him throughout his desperately short set.  They were here to see Rodrigo y Gabriela, presumably because they’d seen them on Jools Holland’s show, a guaranteed way of increasing ticket sales.  James was relatively unknown therefore to this audience, insignificant.  James was accompanied by a young Highland fiddler called Emma, who admittedly was quite competent in her playing, but even so, I’m not convinced she added anything to what James was doing.  I wanted to hear the songs and I felt she just scraped away along to them, which is probably a bit harsh, but I have always preferred a violin, whistle, pipes, squeezybox thing to come in and out at relevant points in a song, rather than just droning away throughout.  James played only five songs, mostly revamped traditional fare such as “Lowlands Away” and a lengthy Anne Briggs ballad that went on for a good ten minutes.  I wanted him to do “Cheating the Game” but it wasn’t to be.  The nearest thing he got to that was “Tender to the Blues” from the same album Moving up the Country.  Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero are without doubt two very gifted guitar players who dazzle their audience with exhilarating rhythmic guitar thumping melodies.  This is fire music, the Hispano passion built around thrash metal influences.  They insist it is not flamenco, which of course it isn’t, but it has all that sexy passion right in there to the core.  There are moments that you don’t actually believe there are just two guitars at work, 12 strings, and wooden boxes built for a good bashing.  They started with “Tamacun”, the opening number from their eponymous album, which although instrumental, as is all their material, is apparently about a Mexican version of Steve Irwin, handling Crocs and teaching kids how to respect nature. Each instrumental piece thereafter had its own drive and quality and even though the thought of attending a purely instrumental gig sounds almost unthinkable (to a faithful song lover), you can’t help but love every minute.  Mind you, it’s not all about Mexican/Spanish rhythms, there are one or two well known rock tunes thrown in for good measure.  Take for instance their epic version of Metallica’s “Orion” or their beautiful rendition of “Stairway to Heaven”.  No one can doubt their rock n roll influences.  The only vocal performance in their set was done completely without either Rodrigo or Gabriela opening their mouths.  They played Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, and the audience filled in the gaps.  This is the second time I’ve seen Rodrigo y Gabriela, the first time being at this years Cambridge Folk festival.  There’s one marked difference in presentation that I mention only because I am beginning to be a fuddy-duddy.  Their performance at a family gathering such as Cherry Hinton Hall on a Sunday afternoon can quite easily be negotiated without one single utterance of an expletive, unlike Rock City, where the demand on bad language appears to be a matter of course.  Presumably the audience would go home disappointed if Gabriela hadn’t used approximately fifty ‘foockings’ during the night.  Mind you, it is rather quaint to hear such words coming in sentences of broken English from someone as sweet as her.  The first P in their piece PPA apparently stands for Pinche, a Mexican term meaning ‘foocking asshole’, which they like to dedicate to all the people in the music business who ‘think they know what’s going on but actually don’t have a clue’.  Rodrigo y Gabriela are eco friendly and wherever possible adhere to the basic rules of recycling, all their CD covers are printed on recyclable paper for instance.  They even gave their t shirt manufacturer strict guidelines to follow which they apparently went on to not follow at all.  They decided though that rather than send them back, they would make sure all the proceeds for each sale would go to charity.  So, although I rarely buy ‘the t shirt’ at gigs, I did on this occasion knowing that my contribution would be going to Cancer Care West and The Animal Humane Society of Zihuatanejo.  But of course.