The intro music for Rodrigo y Gabriela’s sold-out show with the Colorado Symphony at Red Rocks on Sunday night included Accept’s “Balls to the Wall” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name.” They served as an aural warning of hard-edged, boisterous guitar riffs ahead. This was not to be a typical night with the symphony.
In a short set before joining the orchestra, the Mexican duo of Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero tore into their acoustic guitars. Gabriela carries complex rhythms with her thumb as her freakishly fast fingers attack the strings and roll-tap-slap the body of her guitar. (I imagine her plunging her hands into ice water after each show and they hiss.) Rodrigo enveloped the percussive deluge with smooth style, picking and strumming rich jams.
Then the Colorado Symphony joined in as a special guest. “Or maybe we are a special guest for them,” Gabriela said.
But the orchestra powered through a series of fast-paced, high-energy tunes and delivered much more than background music for Rodrigo y Gabriela’s dueling, frenzied acoustics.
Driven by in-the-groove conductor Scott O’Neill, the 50-plus musicians developed bold sounds that highlighted and elevated the duo’s flamenco, salsa and metal-tinged riffs.
While innovative, there is a somewhat limited range to Rodrigo y Gabriela’s sound. They are incredible musicians and virtuosos on their guitars, but two acoustic rigs with limited pedals and effects can only go so far, even when piloted by masters. The pair’s “Area 52” album released last year with a 13-piece Cuban orchestra was mostly salsa-inspired twists on their old songs. The Cuban recording session obviously equipped Rodrigo y Gabriela to meld with big bands. Precise starts, multi-part stops and tricky segues with the orchestra showed that the team had been rehearsing. Sometimes the two guitarists were shredding through a seemingly improvised, inspired jam when all 50-plus musicians, poised for their parts in the back of the stage, turned the page of their sheet music. It was a tight operation all around.
The violas and violins added depth to the pair’s acoustic high-end. Cellos and stand-up basses delivered a deep end that Rodrigo y Gabriel can’t get with their limited bass program of open-chord taps and plucks. Brass and woodwinds sauced up the sound, especially in the swinging salsa bits.
The orchestra seemed excited, or at least O’Neill channeled a lot of energy in his conducting. While I’m not a regular attendee of symphonies, I don’t reckon orchestral musicians are accustomed to cat-calls, whistles, clap-alongs, strobe lights and overworked fog machines that disguise wafting marijuana smoke. But they rocked it out, with grandly inspired moments that thrilled the venue.
Both Rodrigo and Gabriela had stunning, intricate solos that funked, rocked and sizzled, captivating the entire venue and proving themselves as some of the most exciting and innovative maestros of the six-string.
New Orleans guitar-slinger Anders Osbourne opened the show with the full-backing of the orchestra. The three-piece was obviously ecstatic to be playing a capacity Red Rocks with a big band. Osbourne played for his first time at Red Rocks the night before with String Cheese Incident. He was stoked. The jubilant Osbourne riled the crowd with a rowdy “Stoned Drunk and Naked” that might have sparked some consternation among the core symphony fans. A scorching version of Neil Young’s “Ohio” saw a throbbing symphonic sea floating Osbourne’s intense, improvised solos with mighty bassist Carl Dufresne. But Osbourne revealed his poetic roots with a stirring, gospel-esque “Higher Ground,” backed only by the symphony.
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