They had flashy lights. They had huge back screen projections. But none of that mattered. Only two aspects mattered, however. Rodrigo. Y Gabriela. OK, and two lovely flamenco-style guitars.
Because those two people, armed only with acoustic guitars (and a couple of pedals and effects), blow audiences away every time. They certainly did last night in Clearwater (November 24th).
And I will amend that second remark. The enormous random images projecting behind Rodrigo y Gabriela were distracting. Fortunately, they disappeared shortly into the program and were replaced with great camera shots of their guitars — from the guitar neck down. That was awesome.
The evening began with a far-too-short set by Marc Scibilia, a musician from Buffalo via Nashville. Write that name down somewhere, because you’re going to be hearing more from him. His set began with Scibilia on electric piano. After the first tune, he stepped to the front of the stage and strapped on his guitar. And he had a bass drum that he played with his foot.
And we will pause here for a moment to discuss sound quality. It is relevant especially because the sound engineers at Ruth Eckerd Hall (and at The Capitol Theater) are brilliant. Usually. But not for this set. It seemed as if Scibilia’s soundcheck was rushed at best. His vocals rasped occasionally through the pristine system, but it was the bass drum that was dreadful. It should have been an effective tool for Scibilia’s set, but it was cranked up several notches past way too loud. To be fair, the vocals were straighter out. The bass drums was NOT.
Nevertheless, Scibilia persisted… and won. He had won over the audience early on, to the point where an absolute unknown opening a show like this got us to sing along several times. Also, he was a wonderful storyteller, setting up a number of his songs. He told us about being raised in Buffalo, and how he was happy to be here in Clearwater for the first time.
“I’ve been on a lot of tours, opening and headlining. Every night on this tour, by the end of the night, I’m ready to quit,” he joked, honoring the prowess of the night’s headliners. In fact, Scibilia was on all 17 dates of this tour.
He talked about how he got to Nashville before playing a song titled “Better Man.” One stanza in, he stopped abruptly, in itself amusing, before telling us the the girl in the song was completely imaginary. He even worked the “cellphone” refrain from Drake’s “Hotline Bling” into the tune!
His tremendous stage presence sold everything he did. His tune “Summer Clothes” was at once very touching… and amusing for Floridians. It spoke of his father finding some of his summer clothes and figuring out what to send and what to save. It was a lovely sentiment. Of course, we have the same box of “winter clothes!”
He got great audience participation on The Boss’s “Dancing in the Dark” and touched more hearts with “I Need You So Bad.” Scibilia closed with “Jericho,” in which he effectively used his loop machine to set up two different guitar figures before setting the guitar down and emoting like a lead singer, great arm movements projecting the message. And we all sang along to his chorus. The song finished, the guitar loops continued as he walked off stage to thunderous applause. That’s how you impress a new audience!
This entire evening went off like clockwork. Scibilia was on at 7:59, off (too early!) at 8:34, and Rodrigo — alone — entered stage left at 8:59. The stage had two large oriental rugs with three equipment crates behind them. Rodrigo sat on the one in the middle, back from the front of the stage, crossed his leg, and began playing. Near the end of the song, Gabriela joined him, standing to his right, again back from the stage.
Setlist? We don’t need no stinkin’ setlist! Later in the set, Rodrigo would explain they weren’t using one (he said that last time at Ruth Eckerd as well), and that was evident, because the songs came rushing out in torrents, washing over the crowd. All of the ‘hits’ were there, somewhere, but the only thing that really mattered was that two wonderful players were making gorgeous music.
The first half hour just seemed to melt away, and finally Gabriela came to stage front on her side, so that we could see her astounding percussive techniques and to use her pedals on occasion. Not gonna lie — I chose seats on her side of the auditorium. What a fanboy!
There was some tune — maybe it was the cover of Metallica’s “Orion” — where Rodrigo quoted almost a stanza from “Stairway to Heaven,” a great tease. “Diablo Rojo,” “Hanuman” and many more were on the non-setlist. Rodrigo told us about that about 40 minutes into the program. Shortly after that, they absolutely stunned with a brilliant version of “Take Five.” And Gabriela had a really bouncing tune before they closed the set.
Gabriela is usually reticent to speak, so when handed the mic she cracked us all up with: “I’m the hippie of this band, so… please recycle… more!” Rodrigo pointed out that they had been touring the world nearly non-stop for four years (and this was the tenth-anniversary tour). They are planning to stay home some, jump into the studio, and create some more wonderful music. He said music. I say wonderful.
Rodrigo then asked if it would be alright if they played a Rage Against the Machine tune.
Gee. I dunno…
Two acoustic guitars positively owned “Killing in the Name.” Of course we sang the words! And they sent us home with a magnificent “Tamacun.” Notorious RYG!
[There were no photographers at Ruth Eckerd that evening, and no cellphone pics emerged, either. The several images used here are from their respective websites.]