It was another epic night for Rodrigo y Gabriela fans at Leeds’ O2 Academy. Some four years after the Mexican guitar duo’s last show at the venue, those who had waited for the return visit were not disappointed.
Now back with their fourth album of original songs, 9 Dead Alive, the Leeds date marked the beginning of the UK leg of their world tour. Opening the show with track one on the album, the wonderfully melodious The Soundmaker, the pair had the crowd hooked from the beginning. They followed that up with track two from the album, Torito – a fast-paced catchy track punctuated by a heavy-metal-esque riff.
Watching Rodrigo y Gabriela on stage is mesmerising – the speed of their playing, the percussive sound they create despite no drum kit, the effortless ‘question and answer’ of their guitars and the use of volume – soft one minute, and building to a rocking crescendo the next. At the first break in music, you could hear neighbouring crowd members – clearly invited along by friends – expressing their astonishment at what they’d just seen and heard. Such is the wide appeal of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s music, it’s a varied crowd they attract - young and old, couples, metalheads.
Rodrigo explained that this gig was going to be different from their previous tours in that no set list would be followed. It was to be a more fluid affair and they would play requests – of their own music and, is it turned out later, of covers. Amid lots of shouting out of tracks, the duo picked up the popular Diablo Rojo from their 2006 self-titled album. The choice pleased the crowd, as did their seamless move into their well-known Stairway to Heaven cover. Another request was Santa Domingo, from their 11:11 album, which they admirably had a good bash at before struggling to remember the entire track. They are human after all. In fact the pair showed more of a human side at this gig than others – they seemed to relax more and chatted freely to the audience. Gabriela recalled the old days when they were based in Dublin and would tour the UK, with Rodrigo driving and she reading a map - pre Sat Navs.
After playing another track from 11:11, Savitri – a skilful meld of Middle Eastern sounds, Spanish guitar and rock – they delighted the metal fans in the audience with a Metallica medley, including Orion – which they cover on their 2006 album – and Battery.
Showing yet more humanity, Rodrigo took the opportunity to highlight on stage Mexico’s troubles and particularly the 43 students of a teaching college in Ayotzinapa, southern Mexico, who went missing – feared murdered – in September. He invited his support act, Norway’s Øystein Greni, on stage to sing their song Nature’s Way, with a dramatic backdrop of the students’ faces with the message “Ayotzinapa somos todos’ (You are not alone Ayotzinapa).He told the crowd: “We are not a political band, but we cannot ignore this nonsense.”
Rodrigo provided backing vocals to that song but provided impressive lead vocals when it came to a fantastic cover of Creep by Radiohead later on.
The pair closed the show with the fabulous Tamacun, a favourite from their 2006 album, which whipped the crowd into a frenzy for the finale to an incredible evening.
It took Rodrigo y Gabriela five years to release their new album after 11:11 and and four years to return to Leeds - but they are worth the wait. As great as listening to their music ever is, nothing beats the live gig experience of watching these virtuosos showcase their awe-inspiring talents before your eyes. It’s rare in gigs to hear audiences fall completely silent but that’s what happened as the pair held everyone’s rapt attention. Let’s hope it’s not another four years before they return.
Gig date: November 30