Jaw-dropping fiesta
Rodrigo Y Gabriela - Live At O2 Academy, Brixton

After a break from touring due to a strain injury caused by Gabriela’s natty percussive style of playing guitar, Rodrigo y Gabriela make their return to English shores with a few more bodies in tow, about ten of them. If ever there was a time when the “world music” tag was apt, then here it is. The Mexican duo have teamed up with the suitably named Cuban Orchestra, C.U.B.A, to showcase recent album ‘Area 52’. Can this work? To be fair, who would have thought nylon stringed guitars played at meticulous speed by two metal fans would work on the big stage? No, nor did we, but their frantic fusion of flamenco, thrash metal and jazz has seen them humbly playing in the big league for a few years now, so why not mix it up.

‘Area 52’ is a recomposition of tracks from their last two albums, arranged by jazz pianist Alex Wilson, who is here on keys duty tonight. Kicking off with 'Santo Domingo' they were right at home and had the venue captivated, towards the end with just Gabriela tapping away. It’s brilliant how something so simplistic can have the audience left with their mouths open in amazement. Where you can really see the change in direction with this project is when Rodrigo gets out his electric guitar on 'Hanuman’. Still with his trademark flamenco style, but amplified, perfect for a venue such as Brixton Academy.

On the album there are times when there is just too much going on and it seems there are layers upon layers of unnecessary instrumentation, but live is where Rodrigo y Gabriela always shine, and tonight is no exception. ‘Diablo Rojo’ is salsa at its best, the handiwork of Rodrigo is interlaced with a piano dancing around it throughout the song, until a mad percussive breakdown morphs into a Cuban party tune, bring out the rum!

The band disappears and it’s just Rod on his tod. After a short set, jokingly chucking a few notes of ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ into the mix, it’s Gabriela’s turn. It’s nice to see their both distinctive and varying styles of playing on their own before its back to business with the band. There are times when there are a few too many self indulgent solos from the various band members, we can see they’re good, but ultimately it’s not needed and gets a bit tiresome.

After leaving the stage to rapturous applause, they’re back to treat us to a bit more with usual live favourite ‘Tamacun’. This is where this collaboration really shines, 2+2=5 and all that. Take this usually frenetic paced number, add a pinch of brass at regular intervals, mix in a speedy paced plinkety piano line, a shake of percussion, not too much mind, and enjoy, all seven minutes of it. Is it possible to mosh to two people on a stage playing Spanish guitars? Well they’ve got a band tonight, it’s definitely allowed, as a few heads down the front are going for it.

So does it work with the band? Definitely, in a venue such as this it only helps to fill the space and create a party vibe, and they’re clearly loving it. Back in the summer, says Gabriela. Can’t wait!

Words by Paul Melbourne
Photo by Will Bunce

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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