See, I planned this review opener on the way to the acoustically perfect Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Mainly, my thought was that I might recognize a couple of tunes by name, but they would all be instrumentals, so I was bound to get confused. And likely it wouldn’t matter anyway.
So what happened? Rodrigo y Gabriela came out on stage to thunderous ovation and blasted through “Soundmaker,” the opening track from their recent CD release, 9 DEAD ALIVE. But then Rodrigo sat on a monitor at the front of the stage and explained they had decided not to write setlists but rather let the setlists suggest themselves, including having audience members shout suggestions (perhaps they’ve seen Springsteen’s signs). So apparently I was right – for the wrong reason. I’ll take it.
The tour opened the previous night in Miami, and RyG brought along a friend of theirs, Norwegian Ǿystein Greni. Like RyG, Greni also was a very heavy-metal rocker back in the day with his band Bigbang, a huge sensation in Norway. There had been no mention of an opening act, so I was all set to get myself in a huff. Greni decided to take all the wind out of my sails by delivering a delightful half-hour acoustic set. He is a great guitar player and equally talented on the mandolin, and his lilting voice reminded me a bit of Jesse Colin Young, with a great falsetto to boot. He also did very well with his stage banter between songs. I would certainly see him again.
It was a smart move having an opener to ensure that late-arrivers would not miss the main event. Half an hour between sets was unnecessary, however. When I am king…
After “Soundmaker” and Rodrigo’s remarks, the duo hit “Orion” from their eponymous debut to kick off a Metallica medley. Just in case you didn’t think that could happen with two acoustic guitars. They had played with Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo just three nights earlier at the Mill Valley Film Fest in a celebration of the music of Jaco Pastorius (Trujillo recently directed his movie “JACO”). The medley was probably similar to “Orion > For Whom the Bell Tolls > The Frayed Ends of Sanity > Battery,” which they played in August.
About the two acoustic guitars thing. You owe it to yourself to check them out live, of course, but at least be sure to look at YouTube. These two are rock stars, and they play with that metal intensity. Gabriela is the percussionist of the duo, pounding, slapping, rapping on her guitar, alternating with lightning-fast flamenco guitar playing. It is hard not to watch her, although Rodrigo is also extremely charismatic and struts the rock poses to match his blistering picking. (“But I digress…”)
After several songs, Rodrigo noted that they have been living in Norway and were excited to have Greni on tour with them. Greni came back out, and two microphone stands (!) were set up. Rodrigo told us they were going to play a Spirit tune. To our absolute delight, they had chosen “Nature’s Way” from Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. It was spectacular, and Greni absolutely nailed the vocal made famous by Randy California. I mean, he hammered it. Truly beautiful. Rodrigo provided harmony vocals.
[On the way home, I asked Linda how many in the audience knew “Nature’s Way” and/or Twelve Dreams. 30%, she guessed. Now I’m thinking lower than that. Quel dommage!]
Next surprise: Greni left the stage, but they left one mic stand, and Rodrigo sang again! This time, it was Radiohead’s “Creep,” and his voice was perfect for that tune.
In addition to their wonderful songs, they teased several songs, playing the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” (which was on their first CD) and later a small snippet of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.”
Gabriela took a wonderful solo to put to rest any speculation that she just slapped the guitar. Rodrigo’s solo later was beautiful and pensive and bluesy and… it rocked. RyG are wizards, and they simply rock the house. Their 71-minute set was followed by a joyful 15-minute encore. I was exhausted. They had to be, but there they were, at stage front, shaking hands with everyone who scurried down close.
If you plan to buy any of their CDs, look for the “deluxe” versions that also have DVDs in the package. Five of their eight releases are available that way. You will thank me – and yourself!