International guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela greeted a jam-packed concert hall and lawn at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center last night, in a full evening of raw instrumental talent and innovation.
Eclectic solo-artist Kishi Bashi served as the opening act of the evening. Originally a classically trained violinist, Kishi Bashi is best described now as a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter, a veritable one-man-band. With clever use of sound and repetition, he provides the entire spectrum of beat, background, harmony and melody of his music. Kishi Bashi’s style is hard to describe; though perhaps it can be categorized as Alternative, his cross-genre techniques ranging from beatboxing, tapping, strumming and playing the violin, whistling and singing, makes him entirely one-of-a-kind. Additionally, his songs all come with a thoughtful story, such as “Bittersweet Genesis for Him and Her,” and “I Am The Antichrist To You”, which he performed, and delighted audience with his most well-known song, “Bright Whites”. His performance is a contradiction of sensory experience; the music is lilting and relaxing, yet your eyes don’t quite believe that what you are listening comes from one man, his violin, and a few foot pedals.
The main act, Rodrigo y Gabriela, followed shortly on the last notes of the impish Kishi Bashi, though the style and the atmosphere could not be more different. While Kishi Bashi pulls off cool, playful effortlessness and ease, Rodrigo y Gabriela enters with a red-hot bang of sound, speed, and color and inspires a musical high that doesn’t leave for the entire time they are on stage.
The guitar duo is undoubtedly one of the best-known instrumentalist artists in the world, and one of the only international musical acts of its caliber to hail from Mexico. Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero originated from and met in Mexico City in their youth, brought together by their guitar talent and taste in the heavy metal music of Metallica. They eventually migrated to Dublin, Ireland to play their music because of the city’s reputation for being receptive to street music and musicians; they did indeed find their fame and a fan base there, first as local street musicians, then after receiving their break, by touring internationally. The duo have also worked in the studio with renowned soundtrack artists Hans Zimmer and Henry Jackson, where their talent was included in scores for movie soundtracks.
The duo is a well-honed machine, with Rodrigo serving as the melodist in the majority of their songs while Gabriela provides the harmony and rhythm with an impressive and energetic percussive style. There is no explicable way to categorize their music or their talent; no genre, nor style, can fully encapsulate Rodrigo y Gabriela. The duo’s handiwork is on the classical guitar, yet the way they play the instrument is anything but classic. Instead, they manage the awe-inspiring feat of fingers strumming and plucking, tapping, and hitting at breakneck, unbelievable speeds. Yet the otherworldly technique is only one part of what makes the duo unique; the other being the span of genres that their music touches upon, ranging from flamenco, to rock, to metal, to traditional Mexican themes.
This concert is a stop on their world tour to promote their latest album, 9 Dead Alive – their fourth studio album, and the duo treated audience to some of their new work. The new album “9 Dead Alive” is, in the artists’ own words, “a personal celebration of individuals who have passed on, but through their deeds and words still resonate in the 21st century”. Their performances included “Misty Moses,” dedicated to Harriet Tubman, and “Sunday Neurosis,” an homage to Austrian neurologist Viktor Frankl; eclectic spinning and changing images of the persons of inspirations accompanied the music. Rodrigo led the audience in the “karaoke portion” of the concert in a soulful rendition of “Creep” by Radiohead, much to audience delight. Each artist then also performed a solo work that highlighted their particular talents on the guitar; rapid high-toned melodic fingerwork from Rodrigo, and whirlwind percussive use of all parts of the guitar from Gabriela.
The duo then launched into to hit some of their original classics including the devilishly fast “Diablo Rojo” and Latin-inspired “Ixtapa” and “Tamacun,” the latter of which was featured in the hit show “Breaking Bad”. A full standing audience called unabashedly for an encore, matching the guitarists beat by beat in incredible energy, wowed on one level by the unbelievable, almost frenzied pace of play, but too overpowered by the raw music to fully comprehend. Rodrigo y Gabriela left us breathless and dizzy, yet inexplicably at the same time, completely revitalized.
Running Time: 3 hours, with one intermission.