Rodrigo y Gabriela during their Tuesday, May 6 performance at The Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. (Steven Ward/Living Out Loud LA)
Arduous in the brilliant and fluid-like movements of their fingers that seemed to dance across the body and neck of their guitars throughout their fiery duet, Rodrigo y Gabriela were the epitome of Latin-passion and grace in their explosive and sold-out performance Tuesday night at The Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
Burning through much of their improvised set list like a fuse doused in gasoline, the Mexico City duo and flamenco-instrumentalist heroes ignited a riotous celebration within a crowd that raved and danced to tunes from their extensive album discography.
They captured the elegant plucks and rhythms of their crowd favorite, “Tamacun,” off their eponymous first album Rodrigo y Gabriela, dazzling with the intricate licks and folk sound they honed in their early years in Ireland.
Their cover of Metallica’s “Orion” illuminated the ways in which their Latin past was infected by rock and roll.
“It’s not very common we play in places like this with people sitting down,” Rodrigo Sanchez mentioned immediately after the short intermission. “You’re so fucking civilized.”
It was then that Gabriela Quintero’s flamenco-born percussive technique caught the flair of Rodrigo Sanchez’s stylized chops and strums, and the duo descended into an hour long inferno that featured hits off their three most recent albums, 11:11, Area 52, and 9 Dead Alive.
“Santo Domingo” highlighted the stunning, fast-paced playing of Quintero, who rapped and fingered the strings of her guitar almost simultaneously, creating a clean and indiscernible rhythm between the two.
Then there was “Torito,” with its careening interscalar soloing and riffs, which Quintero described as a “tribute to nature and animals,” and possessed some of her most inventive rhythmic techniques: slapping and frenetically strumming her guitar with a controlled aggression in dialogue and argument with Sanchez’s leads.
Their movements were like conversation, one momentously built between two thunderous desires—two soulful guitars.
Almost routinely, the duo took song requests from the crowd, which Sanchez mused humorously, after the onslaught of incoercible appeals, was a “pretty stupid idea.”
So they resolved to play more of their newer hits, like the mellow and intimate, “Sunday Neurosis,” which smoldered through the crowd with its echoing licks and vocal samples.
Their cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a goose-bump inducing moment as every one of the 2,000 voices in the room rang in tune to Sanchez’s version of the heartbreaking chorus.
On, “The Russian Messenger,” Quintero manifested a menacing rhythmic attack of palm slaps on the wood of her instrument, interspersed with slashing minor sevenths; Sanchez countered with delicacy in a flurry of lithe single notes.
This was smoke and fire music, one that burns across genres and traditions like a demented passion spirit that takes no prisoners—and then it slashes like razor; clean cuts and chops so fine and precise they leave no scars.
The dynamic range of their music has always been startling. It is ancient and futuristic, carnally frenetic and romantically seductive, artfully—and even spiritually—played yet drenched in the vulgarity of street life.
To this legacy of sound and love, The Orpheum Theatre contributed greatly; its glittering architecture only an afterthought when compared to the level of intimacy created in the extravagant, two-leveled venue.
The opening act offered a healthy contrast to the fire of Rodrigo y Gabriela, and when Zach Heckendorf took the stage, strumming starry tunes and boasting colorful lyrics, he wowed the audience with his talents.
His song, “All the Right Places,” was an upbeat acoustic jam that had the crowd swaying to its lifting rhythms and happy-go-lucky lyrics. He then promised to play a little bit of “East Coast and West Coast hip-hop,” a promise he fulfilled near the end of his set by covering a song from both A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar.
His cover of the latter’s hit “Money Trees,” got the crowd singing along to Heckendorf’s lighting fast tongue, which was accompanied by the stunning dance of his fingers across his guitar.
It’s notable to mention that the entire night ran without a hitch, Heckendorf took the stage at 8 p.m. sharp and not ten minutes after he walked off it, the lights had dimmed by 8:57 p.m. for Rodrigo y Gabriela.
The entire composition of the night, from the venue to the performers, was flawless in its execution to best accommodate the audience and create an atmosphere—and night—unforgettable, in the least.