Rodrigo y Gabriela - Manchester Academy

Dazzling, as always. Rodrigo y Gabriela finish their 2007 world tour with one final fling in Manchester – a city they “love to play.” For once, I’m tempted to believe I’m not just having smoke blown up my backside. Everywhere this diligent, dynamic duo goes, people end up rolling over, in thrall to their intoxicating mix of … well, you tell me. Describing in print exactly what they do has been a major headache this year. It doesn’t help that every time I see them, I leave feeling I’ve been offered a secret peek into one of life’s great mysteries … and then had my memory wiped. Look, if you’re under their spell, you’ll understand. And you’ll know. If you’re curious, well, here goes : they sit on stools at the front of the stage, play nylon-strung acoustic guitars very quickly and often very rhythmically , mix well-chosen covers (tonight Metallica’s ‘Orion’, Stairway to Heaven’, ‘Wish You Were Here’) with their own album originals and attempt some death-defying improvisation. You want more ?

Tonight’s show differs from the one I saw them play back in June in so many crucial ways that I want to just kiss them for bothering. It’s much looser, probably born of confidence in their increasingly loving, and increasingly larger, British following. Everything they do tonight receives rapturous, heroic ovations. They start taking requests early on and play ‘Orion’ off the bat. They chat between songs; Rodrigo’s English, slightly better then his partner’s, now comes punctuated with an impressive smattering of “f***”s. They stand up and walk about with their instruments, something I’ve not really seen them do before. And, this seals it, they add solo spots that see them improvise and thrill. The latter anchors the 90 minute set, which, in simple terms, splits into three sections : album tracks; solo; crowd pleasers. It’s this middle bit which captures the magic, when it could so easily have sent people scurrying for the bar. Rodrigo’s bit is smart and includes a daring tinker with ‘Stairway to Heaven’ but he’s following Gabriela, who’s just spent 15 minutes projecting us to a different galaxy. How she does this I’m not quite sure, and for the first time in years I find myself wishing I could get my hands on a recording of a gig. The video screen at the rear of the stage gives some blurry indication of the two dozen fingers she appears to have grown but it’s when the camera homes in on her face you start to get an impression of secrets being slowly revealed. Knowing that the percussive passages she so artfully creates will never exist in this form again is as frustrating as it is delicious. In fact, more than ever, watching either of them lost in their music is a stirring experience. He, black jeans and t-shirt, handsome like an indie movie star, built like a bulldog, laughs with the crowd but closes his eyes and leans over his frets like a man possessed. She says less between songs but just as much, if not more, during them; hair tossed back, framing her classic Kahlo-esque beauty, head shaking in time to the rhythms she keeps, hands motoring around the body of her instrument.

The gig itself is a joyous, energised, good-natured celebration. 2007 ends for all-conquering Rodrigo y Gabriela in front of 2,000 devotees. Arms aloft, milking huge, roaring cheers as they leave the stage, applauding us back with genuine humility, this is just about as good as it gets. Peerless and perfect.

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