It’s remarkable how a live concert experience can be influenced by additional factors other than the music. And I’m not talking about drugs or alcohol. You could see the same band play the same set list on consecutive nights, but based on changes in venue, atmosphere, crowd energy, etc., have a completely different interpretation. Seeing a band headline The Gorge in summer does not equal seeing them play the Tractor on a rainy Wednesday (no offense to the Tractor Tavern, one of the best Seattle venues).
Recently I had a unique experience where the character of a show changed drastically in a span of about 5 seconds, and what might have been an enjoyable-yet-otherwise-unexceptional concert turned into a night of unforgettable entertainment and an extraordinary performance. Xavier Rudd and Rodrigo y Gabriela had been on my calendar for months, and it was great when my brothers and a few friends decided to jump on board at the last minute. A few words about Marymoor Park: The Gorge it is not (although the line of traffic waiting to exit at W Lake Sammamish Pkwy is reminiscent of those last few miles after exiting I-90). However, as far as outdoor venues in the Seattle vicinity go, Marymoor is not half bad at all. The grass is green and soft, with small knolls providing a good vantage point for the show and plenty of room to lounge. The tree-lined stage makes for a secluded and pleasant atmosphere for the 5,000 or so people attending.
Due to a minor delay at the raised Montlake Bridge and the aforementioned concert traffic we arrived slightly behind schedule, with just enough time to down a Rainier or two in the parking lot before heading towards the thumping bass inside the concert grounds. As we crossed the fields to the venue, I could hear Xavier Rudd starting “Messages,” a beautiful song from his 2005 release, Food In The Belly, about keeping the Earth clean and saving nature from destruction and greed. It’s one of my favorites, and epitomizes Rudd: a shaggy-haired, spiritually enlightened Aussie who plays his socially conscious music barefoot on stage. The song displays his diverse talents on the guitar, in this case employing a slide on his Weissenborn lap steel. The lawn was so packed there wasn’t enough room to put down even so much as a beach towel, which was fine by me because there was no way I’d be able to sit down for this show like everyone else seemed content to do. We headed straight for the small party of 30 or so hardcore fans dancing in front of the sound booth, just behind 50 rows of reserved seating.
This incarnation of Xavier Rudd, originally a solo act, featured him playing with bassist Tio Moloantoa and percussionist Andile Nqubezelo. Otherwise known as Inzintaba, the addition of the two musicians invigorates Rudd’s music with an energy that I hadn’t heard at previous shows. This was particularly notable on the popular song “To Let,” from his 2002 debut studio release of the same name. With distorted acoustic guitar and smile-inducing jams on one of his massive didgeridoos (a classic staple of his live show), Xavier Rudd and Inzintaba had all of us in front of the sound booth rocking out, and even convinced a few mild-mannered patrons in the reserved section to rise from their seats.
Speaking of rocking out and effect laden acoustic guitars...
Rodrigo y Gabriela have been around for quite a while now (as has Xavier Rudd), but I have been dying to see them live ever since someone sent me a YouTube video in 2006. I don’t just mean to say they have been around for a few years, but have been around the world and back. They met shredding in metal bands in Mexico City, then journeyed to Ireland (of all places), and not long after playing the pubs in Dublin they were rocking European festivals and getting face time on Letterman. It’s amazing to think about all the sound that comes from just two artists on stage with nylon-stringed classical acoustic guitars. Somehow they are able to make you feel like a large hand drum orchestra is backing them up in the wings.
Of course they played excellent standards like “Diablo Rojo” and “Juan Loco,” with Gabriela furiously beating out snare drum rhythms and backing chords while Rodrigo absolutely shredded the upper half of the fret board. Gabriela thanked us all for coming in her best English, and Rodrigo explained about their metal and hard rock influences before launching into “Orion,” their epic Metallica cover. The music was impressive, but I had two regrets: 1) I was too far away to catch a glimpse of the intricate guitar work, and 2) the crowd (and event organizers) were under the impression that this was a relaxed and civil affair, insisting on remaining in their seats and clapping politely at the end of songs. I wanted to tell them somehow that this was not a classical performance, that Rodrigo y Gabriela are, by their own admission, a rock band and the show should be treated as such.
Someone else delivered the message for me, and this is the moment I alluded to earlier where the entire dynamic of the show changed completely. As night fell, a group of kids in the “dancing section” decided the time was right to rush the stage. About seven people broke through into the reserved section and ran down the aisle to jump around at the artists’ feet. Once it became apparent that security was not situated properly to rebuff them, others became emboldened and followed suit. Before anyone knew what had happened I found myself elbows on the stage with hundreds of eager people pushing into my back, and to my own immense elation (and to the delightful surprise of the musicians) the show had turned into a standing-room only, raucous event. Security made one meek, half-assed attempt to request that people return to their seats but it wasn’t happening. Not a bad way to kick off their US tour Seattle!
The rest of the show was exactly what I’d been hoping for. Rodrigo y Gabriela, inspired by the sudden change of atmosphere, brought the fire until the end. Watching Rodrigo burn through solos made my forearms ache; Gabriela was jumping up and down smacking her guitar like it was a djembe, emitting ridiculous booming notes that sounded like she was working a kick drum pedal. When she became exhausted, she simply let out a cry of “Aiiiiiiiii!” (which the crowd enthusiastically echoed) and launched into another round of jumping and slapping her instrument. They took turns organizing crowd participation, directing sections of the audience to clap out different rhythms. Towards the end, they played crowd favorite “Tamacun,” which Rodrigo began by inciting the audience to echo his guitar with a call-and-response sing-along. He would play a few notes, and the crowd boisterously chanted the line back until the duo sped up into an epic performance of the song. It was a good representation of the show itself: starting out slow and ending with amazing energy, leaving everyone out of breath.