Live Music + Gig Reviews

Rodrigo y Gabriela @ Bolivar Hall, London

7 October 2003

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Bolivar Hall – by courtesy of the Venezuelan Embassy, I believe – is a charming small raked venue with perfect acoustics. Importantly, it has a beautiful wooden stage floor – important because for Rodrigo y Gabriela, two Mexican guitarists now living in Ireland, the floor becomes a percussion instrument as they not only keep the beat but use their foot tapping to add to the vibrancy of their performance.

That’s in addition to turning their guitars into the most astonishingly varied instruments in themselves, with the diminutive Gabriela in particular seeming to have at least ten fingers on her right hand as she taps and slaps and performs the most intricate rapid drumming to fantastic effect.

This wasn’t officially a gig – it was a launch party for their album, Re-Foc. But we were treated to an hour-long set of the most delightful mixture of soft jazz, Flamenco (“this sounds like Flamenco but… it isn’t” says Rodrigo disarmingly), Latin rhythms and goodness knows what else, with Celtic overtones for good measure. Gabriela, incidentally, speaks English with delightful Irish intonation overlaying her South American accent.

The opener was their take on the Brubeck classic, Take 5: more interesting live than in the recorded version, constantly breaking away from the familiar to add sections of pure beat. Next a tune which translates as Lucky Charm – popular when they were first busking in Dublin; then a tribute to that City, the delightful Temple Bar; and finally a delicious new tune, as yet unnamed.

Ze Conway joined the pair for the remainder of the set, contributing – as she does on the album – some gorgeously pure, soft scat vocals on New One, plus fine violin for Diem and finishing with an extended version of Foc (Catalan for fire, in case you’re wondering).

There were a couple of moments where it seemed the direction of a tune had been lost, where perhaps the recorded version was tidier, more focused. But how can I quibble when the whole experience was so joyous, so infectious, so exciting, and when the virtuosity on display was so extraordinary. No wonder they set the acoustic tent at Glastonbury alive.

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