Roaring through Oakland on their roots rock revival tour for recently released 9 Dead Alive, Mexican acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela took Oakland’s Fox Theater on a wild ride on Friday, May 9. Opening the show with a sound not far from Dave Matthews Band was Denver native, Zach Heckendorf. With catchy tracks such as “All the Right Places,” Heckendorf’s sultry tone and finesse on the acoustic guitar projected an air of joviality and good vibes over a crowd of all ages, creeds, and cultures.
After Heckendorf, the headliners burst onstage without introductions, in a frenzy with a high-energy performance of “The Soundmaker” off of the new album. It was a masterful synchronization of classical flamenco, jazz, and contemporary styles. Rodrigo’s melody lines, backed by the locomotive force of Gabriela’s rhythms, lit up the entire theater with a tribal energy. Shrouded by the smoke of burning incense and backed by a mesmerizing backdrop, the atmosphere pouring off the stage was rich with spirituality and mysticism. These two maestros demonstrated an unrivaled cohesion and mutual understanding, casting a paralyzing spell over the audience with beautifully overlapping and complimentary progressions.
After three consecutive numbers, a timid Gabriela took the microphone and explained that 9 Dead Alive was largely inspired by her hometown of Ixtapa in Mexico and a desire by both herself and Rodrigo to return to the exclusively acoustic, two-guitar approach where they began. In accordance with this attitude, many of the tracks on the album are dedicated to significant figures in human history and larger themes such as a connection to nature in “Torito.” In a remark that elicited a roar of approval from the audience, Gabriela said that the recording took place without the aid of a metronome, declaring firmly, “Fuck the metronome!”
The second Gabriela left the mic, her shyness evaporated as her right hand began to move at speeds too fast for the naked eye. Her partner soon joined in with a back-and-forth percussion battle that transitioned into the second part of the set. A few songs later, Rodrigo took the stage alone, stunning faithful onlookers with a solo performance that would have put Stevie Ray Vaughan in his seat. Gabriela answered with a solo of her own that was no less spectacular and brought to light the distinct stylistic differences between her and Rodrigo that make them such a perfect musical match.
A highlight in the set came when Rodrigo playfully teased the crowd with a few recognizable covers and eventually capitulated to disappointed cries with a uplifting cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” during which the crowd’s thunderous echo drowned out his not-too-shabby vocals. Responding quickly to a deafening demand for more, the elated pair put on an electrifying rendition of “Hanuman” that sent the entire pit into a loose salsa. Ramping up from there, a powerful tribute to Metallica’s “Orion” presented resident metal heads with the chance to thrash and rock out. As if this wasn’t enough, the infectious and transcendent “Tamacun” sent the night over the peak of awe and appreciation for the musical genius that is Rodrigo y Gabriela.
As the two beamed and bowed deeply under the lights to the sound of AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock” coming over the PA system, not a soul in the house was questioning their decision to attend. Few acts on the circuit today could have made waves as large as those rolling out of these two stunning, nylon Yamahas. Smiles were spread as far as the eye could see.