It’s difficult to pin Rodrigo y Gabriela down in words—much as their music (and Rod’s hair) defies easy classification, their live performance is a constantly evolving affair. Their June 2, 2019 show at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN was perhaps an even greater oddity: intimate assembly with 2,000 fans—old and new—in an iconic venue just after the release of an ambitious and personal new album.
Mexico City has long fostered vibrant underground scenes of various stripes, but any self-respecting music executive would’ve laughed in your face if you predicted the rise of two self-taught classical guitarists with an affinity for heavy metal meeting in De Efe as teens, launching a career in Dublin, then touring relentlessly around the world in front of sold-out crowds for nearly 20 years with no signs of slowing down. Thankfully reality is infinitely weirder and more rewarding than speculation.
Instead of storming the stage with their signature percussive, fleet-fingered, strobe-pulsing attack, Rod and Gab walked out slowly under muted spotlights and sat down casually on the steps of the circular dais, kicking things off with a conversation—a mic passed congenially between them as they welcomed everyone and set the tone for the tour de force to follow.
This is not to say it was a sedate evening. With introductions behind us, their signature propulsive performance was brought to bear song after song—though it continued to be punctuated by quieter moments of conversation where both ruminated on the individual and collective journeys that brought them to this point, as well as the deeply personal worldviews and hopes that were poured into their newest album Mettavolution.
We don’t read music. We don’t understand music the way a musician is supposed to, so we’re gonna play bits and pieces from the first album as we remember.
– Gabriela Quintero
The evening featured many tracks from the new album, highlights being a propulsive performance of the title track as well as an extended cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” The latter was particularly powerful as a callback in other medleys throughout the set after its initial performance. This being the Mother Church—always a unique show—the back catalog was given some special treatment as well, particularly an ad-hoc medley from their first studio album (2002’s re-Foc) that was introduced by Gab in classic fashion:
Both Rod and Gab speak far better English than I do Spanish, and I have no doubt that they are competent lyricists in both languages—in fact, by Gab’s admission on-stage, each of the tracks on Mettavolution has lyrics penned that will perhaps be released down the line—but excluding the odd choral background vocal, their songs have always been instrumental, even in covers of classically lyrical songs.
Still, the magic of their music lies in its universality. Songs in any language can play with words with or against melody for obvious effect, but as TV shows like La Linea, Minuscule, and Sean the Sheep show, there is not only room for, but a need for, more fundamental ways to address the trans-cultural, deeply human things that affect us all: emotion, relationships, past, future, and so much more.
You can catch Rodrigo y Gabriela on tour supporting METTAVOLUTION throughout the U.S. and Canada through July before heading to the UK in September and western Europe in October.