Rodrigo y Gabriela - October 18th, 2007 - Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA
By: Christa Titus
Metal lovers already know the genre is a more evolved than some media outlets would like people to think. The screaming isn't (always) senseless, the artists aren't inherently thuggish, and sketchy bathing habits are often the result of hard touring. Orchestras turning rock songs into opuses are now the norm, and the communities that metal has touched are as diverse as bluegrass outfit Iron Horse paying homage to Metallica. But those who spent their formative years wearing Aqua Net and denim jackets still cock their heads when music associated with yuppies takes a metal detour.
The Electric Factory hosted two acts Oct. 18 whose sounds are completely off the hard-beaten path of metal, which accounted for why the audience contained thirty-somethings that are more subdued than the ones populating Judas Priest concerts. Alex Skolnick Trio, as the supporting for acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, gave a 40-minute warmup, and we'll bet a Jager shot that most of the crowd didn't realize a revered thrash guitarist was noodling onstage. Opening with Scorpion's "Still Loving You," the song in its jazz incarnation was barely recognizable, save for a faint melody. The threesome of guitarist Skolnick, drummer Matt Zebroski and upright-bass player Nathan Peck weren't 10 minutes into their set with Zebroski indulgedi n a solo, and my musician companion noted that the drummer didn't do much to direct the trio's vibe.
Skolnick and co. were about a laid-back, bachelor-pad smooth groove, one that would cozily fit in the background of your local Starbucks—overtly complicated, look-what-we-can-do riffings were not the point. Aside from original tunes "The Wizard" and "Last Day in Paradise," the band gave Ozzy Osbourne's "Revelation (Mother Earth)" the mellow jazz treatment and closed with an animated "Detroit RockCity" by Kiss. Throughout, Skolnick played a gracious leader who thanked the headliners for the touring opportunity and promoted newalbum "Last Day in Paradise," which shows that the veteran artist knows that no matter how established he is, he's only as good as his last gig.
We didn't receive a set list for Rodrigo y Gabriela, so naming which songs they performed from their self-titled album is a tough call because of their repetitive nature. The pair had a no-frills production of two chairs, two mics and two acoustic guitars, so they were as stripped-down as you could get. "Tamacun" and galloping, madcap "Diablo Rojo" made the cut, and when you get down to it, they are the album's go-to tracks anyway. The latter had people dancing in whatever awkward fashion they thought matched the beat—busting out faux flamenco dance moves hardly comes natural, and the percussive song is a swing-your-pardner Mexican hoedown. It didn't stop a fewhead bangs from being thrown, albeit nothing of the whiplash kind.
Sonic markers were best-found in the snatches of cover tunes populating the set, with Metallica being the band du jour. "Battery,""Orion," "Wherever I May Roam," "Ride the Lightening," "Master of Puppets" and "One" popped up here and there, always receiving an appreciative holler. Slayer's "Reign in Blood," Deep Purple's "Smokeon the Water," Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" also appeared. Hearing Kerry King's guitar gone Spanish sounded odder than the tick-tock guitar knocks of "Orion," but we once heard Diecast make Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" sound cool live, so anything originating as metal usually comes out ahead in aninterpreter's hands.
Speaking of interpreters, R and G don't speak the smoothest English,but they've figured out how to traverse the language barrier by dropping the word "fuck." A lot. They used it like random punctuation with comedic results, like Rodrigo explaining that one song was being jokingly called "Fuck the Visa Department" since the organization had kept him from re-entering the States when his name matched a criminal's.
From a big-picture point of view, Rodrigo y Gabriela puts a fresh twist on an old sound, and they're bringing together world music and metal audiences, which could spark innovations in rock. The pair is obviously talented and passionate, and Gabriela being an equal on her guitar helps level the playing field for females. As entertaining asthe duo is, its own songs become linear stacked one on top of the other. With a new album in pre-production, we wonder if the twosome will push itself on the songwriting front by further developing their style or bringing in other instrumentation to flesh it out. A versatile producer can run with the head-start R and G have on thei nternational stage. Rick Rubin's producing the next Metallica record. . . maybe he'll be available . . .