“We play a crazy mix of rhythms,” said Rodrigo Sanchez as he greeted fans from the Central Park stage in the late afternoon, kicking off their set with their reworked version of Metallica's “Orion.” That sonic blend is sometimes hard to label, as Rodrigo y Gabriela combine influences from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Slipknot, flamenco guitarist Tomatito, jazz pianist Michel Camilo, gypsy guitar and Mexican folk music, creating a sound that is unique but also not unfamiliar to the ear.
The fact that they are able to channel all these sounds simply through two acoustic guitars (using very few effects, from what we could gather) is nothing short of amazing. And their following is equally surprising—how many acoustic instrumental acts attract audiences large enough to fill a venue like Summerstage to capacity?
Sanchez is clearly the more accomplished guitarist of the duo, handling most of the solos, but he gets great backing from Gabriela Quintero, who has great rhythmic skills both on the strings and when she uses her instrument as a percussion instrument. They also have the ability to deal with large audiences well—during one number, they lifted their hands to get loud “hey” responses during breaks in the music. Those skills were obviously picked up while busking in the streets of Dublin, Amsterdam and Barcelona, where they honed their talents as young metal fanatics.
Each of the songs they played seemed to ceaselessly travel between genres within each number, going from metal-inspired moments to flamenco and back again; during one tune, they basically pounded their instruments to create a deafening feedback that surely damaged the eardrums of those closest to the PA system. Sanchez also went beyond the usual realm of the guitar, playing so close to the bridge that all you could hear was an assortment of treble sounds—which somehow seemed to work.
One of the highlights of their set was when Rodrigo announced that they “had something for you” and set to play an instrumental version of Pink Floyd's “Wish You Were Here” to a chorus of thousands of voices, who sang the lyrics as the duo adapted Dave Gilmour's guitar arrangement to their own style.
The lasting impression that Rodrigo Y Gabriela leaves is that they are a new generation of musicians who are able to do something great through a simple approach. Other musicians would surely have relied on synthesizers or other gimmicks to enhance their sound. Like Poland's Motion Trio (who take a similar approach on accordions), they make use of their instruments and nothing else, and we are thankful for that.