Rodrigo y Gabriela + C.U.B.A., O2 Academy, 21/2/12
Bloody hell. My eardrums are bleeding, my throat is raw from bellowing at the top of my lungs, my adhesive encapsulitis is giving me gyp from the overhead fist-pumping I’ve been doing and I think I sprained my ankle doing the pogo for the first time in twenty years - and I really don’t care because I’ve just been to the most exciting gig I’ve been to since maybe forever.
Rodrigo y Gabriela are, of course, two Mexican guitarists from a thrash metal and Dublin busking background who have stolen just about every stage they’ve ever been on (if you don’t believe me, check out this Jools Holland performance that wrapped up his annual Hootenanny and popped it in their back pockets). I was gutted when I was out of the country at the time of their last visit to Glasgow two years ago, so I wasn’t going to miss this, especially as they’re touring their latest album, the fantastic Area 52, a collaborative reinvention of tracks from previous albums with a group of Cuban musicians called, spookily, C.U.B.A.
This is just out of this fucking world. Really, really astonishing stuff. The musicianship is unbelievable, and RyG’s aesthetic blends seamlessly with the Cuban groove, driven by a particularly phenomenal horn section. Their best numbers are all here – “Libertango”, “Hanuman”, Ixtapa” – but given Latin, eastern and African tweaks that serve them superbly. The Cubans are magnificent, especially Alfredo who plays a six string bass with a fretboard as wide as an average aircraft carrier’s flight deck. If this is what 50 years of American spite and hatred does for a country’s musical talent, I reckon we should tell the Yanks to fuck off pretty damned quick.
It’s as loud as your average nuclear explosion, but it’s always, always pin sharp tuneful. Every musician gets their spell in the limelight, including Alex Wilson on keyboards, who arranged the numbers. And every single one of them is a genius.
But everyone is here to see RyG do their considerable stuff. I can’t imagine the odds against two of the best guitarists I have ever seen being born in the same city at the same time; they were obviously made for each other. Rodrigo is the quintessential handsome lead guitarist, all balls and swagger. He’s an impeccable picker, tossing off amazing solos the way anyone else would flick crumbs from their fingertips. He plays the audience brilliantly, suddenly chucking in recognisable little riffs, most especially from Extreme’s “More Than Words” which is treated with the contempt he knows it deserves.
But the star of the show, I think, is Gabriela. Being the nominal “rhythm guitarist”, it’s perhaps a little easy to overlook what she does in this big band setting… and then she gets her solo spot, and it is eight minutes or so of just the most mesmerising music I’ve seen and heard in so, so long. And seen it is too, because she is visually gobsmacking, and it often seems as if she has two hands at the end of her right wrist, so blurred is the speed of her movements. She works every square inch of the instrument so that she becomes a whole orchestral section on her own. She is supernaturally brilliant.
The audience (me included) go more and more bananas, roaring their approval. RyG look as if they enjoyed the love, so I hope they come back. I’ll be there, despite the health risks: I just can’t do without this kind of raucous affirmation of being alive.
God, I loved every minute of this.