Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Rodrigo y Gabriela bring their acoustic metal to the masses

by Ben Rubenstein

Without context, the idea of two Mexican guitarists strumming out an acoustic version of "Stairway to Heaven" by candlelight sounds, at best, like a novelty act and, at worst, like the premise for another awful Carlos Mencia sketch. But Rodrigo y Gabriela are certainly no joke. Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, who met in the Mexico City metal scene in the late ’90s, have long been wowing sold-out crowds around the world with their deft-finger picking and lightning-fast rhythms.

The duo's latest, self-titled album beat out the Arctic Monkeys and Johnny Cash for No. 1 overall in Ireland upon its release, a feat that would be even more impressive had Sanchez and Quintero not been living in Dublin since 1999. The two moved there partly for adventure, and partly because the Mexican recording contract they'd been offered felt like a dead end. Though they knew only minimal English at the time (music had to be the universal language), they ended up cultivating an enthusiastic fan base in and around Ireland, thanks in part to an opening slot on singer/songwriter Damien Rice’s tour. It didn't take long to begin conquering the rest of Europe, or at least the places that would let them play what they wanted.

Throughout their career, Rodrigo y Gabriela have struggled with being labeled, largely because of their ethnicity. Though their all-instrumental music does draw from classic flamenco influences (especially when Gabriela uses her guitar's body for percussion), they mainly identify as rock artists. The songs on Rodrigo y Gabriela demonstrate this tension between worlds, particularly the Metallica cover “Orion” and the rollercoaster-inspired “Diablo Rojo.” Producer John Leckie (Radiohead, Muse) helped to further define the band as a serious rock group, capturing them at their most ferocious.

The album was recorded almost entirely without overdubs, a hint that Sanchez and Quintero's music is best experienced live. Concerts are where the two really show what they can do, inspiring huge crowds—like the ones they’ll be performing for at Lolla this weekend—while wielding nothing more than two acoustic guitars and a love for rocking out. Judging from YouTube videos, they pretty much put every MTV Unplugged episode to shame. Thanks to recent appearances on Letterman and Leno, and the video for “Diablo Rojo” in rotation on VH1, Rodrigo y Gabriela's notoriety is only growing on their home continent. Who's laughing now?

Rodrigo y Gabriela play Lollapalooza’s adidas stage Sunday, at 1:15 p.m.