Could it be that it’s been nine months since we last covered an event at the Hollywood Bowl? Time surely flies in the Los Angeles music scene. It’s summer again and that mean’s another season of quality package shows in KCRW’s annual World Music Festival. This time, the show was centered on the return of virtuoso duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. The big difference this time was that the incredibly talented band would not be backed up by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Would they need the orchestra to captivate the packed capacity crowd? No.
Hometown band Lord Huron was up first on this night. The five-piece group did a decent job of starting the night off, but were nowhere near as impressive as what was to come later. The band’s set opening numbers “End of the Earth” and “The Man Who Lives Forever” were breezy and relaxing, but ultimately mid-tempo to the point of being boring. Leader singer Ben Schneider opted to employ a minimal amount of vocal distortion on the closing songs “Time to Run” and “The Stranger.” Those latter two were a bit longer in duration and featured a more upbeat tempo, both helping to give the set a good finish.
Next up, Denver’s DeVotchKa artfully added an appropriate spice of eclectic genres from all around the world. The small band from Denver was here expanded to an even larger sound expertly utilizing the all-string Section Quartet. With lead singer Nick Urata largely sticking to guitar for his instrument, remaining band members Tom Hagerman, Jeanie Schroder and Shawn King alternating between violin, accordion, trumpet, piano and even sousaphone. “Along the Way” excelled by smart use of repeated trumpet lines. Urata’s vocals seemed oddly low in the mix amidst the lavish orchestration, but the Nord Lead keyboards on “All the Sand in All the Sea” and the Mariachi-styled “We’re Leaving” more than made up for it in playful color. Furthermore, “Contraband” and “I Cried Like a Silly Boy” (from the I Love You Phillip Morris soundtrack) found the right balance of their folk-infused interests and pop song craft. A whistling melody completed the set expertly on “The Enemy Guns,” combining almost all of the exotic instrumentation from earlier numbers at the same time.
Rodrigo y Gabriela finished the night off with stunning technique and skill. The group’s two member Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero are an unparalleled example sheer technical mastery. It’s hard to describe sequentially what the duo plays, but it’s hard to imagine it mattering for anyone in attendance. Gabriela somehow impossibly simultaneously uses percussive hand stabs to create a freight train rhythm and play aggressive root-and-chord melodies. While Gabriela smacks, strums and plucks out the combi-percussion/rhythm guitars, Rodrigo uses an eye-popping mix of Spanish/Flamenco and heavy metal-influenced licks. Rodrigo’s guitar-work can only be described an intense, modal series no-nonsense pentatonic scales. Some metal players will play a few pentatonics bridged together artfully to construct a little solo, Rodrigo plays a nonstop succession of ascending, modal pentatonics, one sequence bridging into a different varied sequence and on again.
The duo effortlessly complement each other, numerous times each song one member shifting presence to fall back, allowing the other to lead the song’s direction. The net total is an epic concoction, one rich, exciting and invigorating, so immaculately constructed it might as well be a musical double helix. The two occasionally speak to the audience and exhibit a charming, delighted demeanor; one wholly different from the incredible energy their songs exude. The interplay and the ever-mounting energy almost draw to mind an unstoppable champion, rendering a whole battlefield filled with combatants to decimated dust. Recent collaborator from their Area 52 album Alex Wilson quietly joined them near the set proper’s conclusion for the most danceable number of the night. By the finale and encore, the audience was on their feet, dancing, screaming and cheering. Calling it deserved would be an understatement. Rodrigo y Gabriela are the live act to see right now. If they’re not a worldwide sensation, they will be soon.