Rodrigo y Gabriela one of best live acts of past 10 years

Rodrigo y Gabriela
Gabriela Quintero. All photos by Eric Kiska

Great two-piece bands are rare these days. It takes a considerable amount of skill to be able to keep a crowd on their toes without having drums, vocals or bass. Rodrigo y Gabriela demonstrated to the Fillmore Saturday night that they didn’t need a backup band to deliver a stellar performance. They could fill enough musical space with two guitars.

Hailing from Mexico City, Mexico and becoming famous in the Dublin, Ireland bar scene by playing Metallica covers and new-age flamenco music, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero have quite an interesting story.

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The Fillmore in downtown Detroit

They met at the age of 15 in Mexico when Sanchez was in a heavy metal group. He soon became agitated with the lack of skill in his band and the limited exposure he was getting in Mexico.

Sanchez and Quintero started playing together at resorts around the Mexican Pacific coast, but eventually moved to Dublin, where they performed on the streets while barely knowing a word of English. It didn’t take long for Ireland to notice their musical genius. Bar gigs turned into a record deal, and a record deal led to their sophomore self-titled album reaching #1 on the Irish billboards.

This leaves the question: How do they pack auditoriums, perform at festivals and sell out arenas worldwide with only two guitars? It would have to start with Quintero’s guitar style and the undeniable chemistry between her and Sanchez.

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Rodrigo Sanchez

Quintero is the rhythm guitarist of the band while also performing a special style of slap-percussion guitar that keeps the beat to their songs. She alternates between strumming chords and playing percussion with her right hand on the body of the guitar.

While Quintero keeps the rhythm, Sanchez shreds bedazzling guitar solos on his acoustic that have an equal influence of heavy metal and classical Mexican guitar. A broad range of influences and a unique style of playing have made Rodrigo y Gabriela one of the best live acts of the past 10 years.

Metro Detroiters responded with energetic clapping to Quintero’s percussion. By the end of their set, the Fillmore’s high ceilings and Renaissance-inspired architecture were echoing “encore” chants throughout the auditorium. Rodrigo y Gabriela responded by teasing Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” then proceeding into their top hit, “Tamacun,” which left the crowd shouting “spanglish” phrases of encouragement.

Once called The State Theatre, the Fillmore was built in 1925 and is a testament to the prosperity in Detroit during the roaring 20’s. Old-style chandeliers hang from the 12-story high ceiling covered in terra cotta. The original architect was C. Howard Crane, who also designed the larger Fox Theatre next door.

The Fillmore is a much more delightful place to watch rock shows than the Fox because it doesn’t have seats where the dance floor should be. The relationship between the artists and the crowd prevails in this venue because of the sense of closeness to the musicians. It has the charm of the Fox theatre, but caters better to rock shows.

It was truly a magical evening of cultural music in Detroit. The Fillmore has a schedule for their upcoming concerts on their website, while Rodrigo y Gabriela will be taking their skills to the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont on Monday. Not to worry, they promised to come back next year.

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Eric Kiska

Eric Kiska graduated from Northern Michigan with a BS in English and writing and minor in art and design. He’s also a former video editor at Detroit Public TV.

  • Bill

    These two have an insane abilty to communiate at such a high level…musically that is very difficult to nhear where ne starts and the other finishes