Rodrigo y Gabriela - Nottingham Rock City

This, it must be said, in a year already bulging with jaw-dropping live performances, doesn’t so much raise the bar as toss it skyward. Gradually, UK music fans have woken up to the acoustic alchemy of Mexico’s magical Rodrigo y Gabriela and taken them to their hearts. In hardly the most sympathetic of venues (amazing how bleak, characterless nightclubs retain their charm a good twenty years after you last stepped inside) they spin out their hybrid of heavy metal/jazz/flamenco and create an atmosphere that most self-respecting fully-powered rock acts would kill for. In fact, tonight gives an indication as to just how much their rock background (their pairing began after the break-up of their original band) informs their live shows : rather than simply sit and play … they play the crowd, with energy and good humour. Every time they shift gear and Rodrigo goes off on one, Gabriela drives the beat, slapping the body of her guitar and mass clapping fills the air. And when Rodrigo (or, on occasion, Gabriela; she takes the lead on their soulful, sing-along version of ‘Wish You Were Here’) really does go off on one, there is respectful, but fevered, applause. Such is their involvement, they drift into impassioned reverie at the drop of a suspended seventh : she head back, drifting in quiet ecstasy; he focused, steely-eyed, always a corner of his eye on the crowd. Notts goes nuts. Next month they support Muse at Wembley Stadium. In front of 70,000 people. Armed with just 12 nylon strings. Piece of piss.

Quite how they engage to such a degree for an uncommonly long 90 minutes still baffles, but no-one bats an eyelid; we’re rapt throughout. If memory serves, they piece together their set from their last two albums (‘Rodrigo y Gabriela’ and ‘Live in Manchester and Dublin’.) Maybe their showmanship extends to the smart scattering of covers throughout the set. Their re-imagining of Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ is compelling, the way Rodrigo explores the possible paths, the way his partner watches him, ready to add rhythm and harmony, following every step. Huge cheers greet the intro to Metallica’s ‘One’, polished off with ferocity and guile, Gabriela playing Lars in the driving middle section. They finish their main set with their take on ‘Stairway to Heaven’. In a performance riddled with high spots the bit where Rodrigo shows that Page’s death-defying solo holds no fear for him is worthy of note. All around me people are joined in an uncommon fervour. Everyone is, get this, smiling. (At a gig ! Who’d have thought it ?) They return and noodle around for a bit, which is cool, and then close with the glorious ‘Tamacun’. For once, another hour or so would have suited me just fine. They work their crowd like rock stars and milk their (several) sustained ovations like deserving victors, appear to be dumbfounded by their new-found popularity. God only knows what we should call their harmonious hybrid, it doesn’t really matter, but somewhere along the line this supremely gifted pair have assembled an imaginative heartfelt, triumphant take on popular music. It makes no sense at all. It makes perfect sense.

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