Live Review: Rodrigo y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. @ Paramount Theatre 4/3

photos by Dave Lichterman

Echoes from one of my favorite concerts in recent memory, Rodrigo y Gabriela‘s 2007 Halloween gig at the Paramount Theatre, still populate my subconscious. Hundreds of collective minds were blown that night. Halloween costumes undulated in and out of focus. Rodrigo’s lightning-fast guitar picking surged. Gabriela’s booming guitar percussion popped. They played like warrior poets and their peerless musicanship dictated why 2007 was their year.

Circa 2012, they’re a band in musical transition:  the bulk of their material from their newest album, titled Area 52, were retooled, Latin Jazz-infused versions of their hits from 11:11 and Rodrigo y Gabriela.  Critics panned the duo for allowing their signature sound to be drowned out by their 13-piece Cuban orchestra band, C.U.B.A..

Suffice it to say, images of Spinal Tap’s Jazz Odyssey reverberated through my head as I sat down five years later, once again, at the Paramount Theatre, awaiting Rodrigo y Gabriela (RyG, for short) and C.U.B.A. to go on.

I’m happy to report that not only receive standing ovations after every song, they have reminded this jaded critic that at the end of a band in musical transition comes a rebirth:  a spicy, jazzy, energetic rebirth.

As the clock struck 8:29 pm, the lights started to dim at the Paramount Theatre as members of C.U.B.A. took the stage to perform along a recording of some unmentioned TOOL song.  The music geek in me squealed at the idea of hearing a fusion of Latin flamenco jazz with alternative metal; moreover, I understood that if this was the preemptive tone that RyG wanted to set for the rest of the evening, the some 2500+ audiencegoers in attendance were going to flip their sombreros.

Sure enough, the titular duo finally come out, decked in matching black shirts, and opened with extremely lively versions of “Santo Domingo” and “Hanuman,” both terrific songs to open up the set. Gabriela, never afraid to take center stage, captivated the crowd with her injury-inducing guitar percussive skills. The entire audience soon forgot the floor came with seats. This was no longer a sitdown concert (not that it ever was to begin with). There were even a scant number of dancers cavorting wildly in the aisles and disregarding potential fire hazard codes.

One highlight for me was the individual, tailored solo pieces in between songs.  Whether it was Rodrigo’s impromptu metal rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” or piano player Alex Wilson’s devilish grin and manic playing, or the face-melting soloing of C.U.B.A’s bass player, each brought a different and fun energy to the table.

It was now 9:31 pm and the whole band plus RyG come back out to play the always the serene “Juan Loco,” which I thanked them for because our collective hands needed some relief from the excessive clapping.  Rodrigo even found time to namedrop Bamboo Garden as their favorite Seattle restaurant in-between songs.  By 9:56 pm, RyG and C.U.B.A. closed out their show with crowd-favorites “Tamacun” and “Diablo Rojo.” It was quite surreal for an audience to sing along to a mostly lyric-free song, but such is the energy in the crowd.

Overall, I had a terrific time at the concert and I came away a believer in RyG’s new, expanded sound. C.U.B.A.’s swanky Latin rhythms, epic horn sections, and terrific pianist and bass player brought flavor and swagger to the theatre that night, but of course, RyG deftly picked up where they left off five years ago, commanding the crowd’s affections and applause with the energy and unparalleled musicianship that they are singularly known for.  So, if you are an old-school RyG fan that was disenfranchised by their new sound or even just a curious concertgoer eager to see something amazing, I implore you to seek them out when they stop at your town.

“Jazz Odyssey”, it is definitely not.

Rodrigo y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. with Bobby Long play the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, CO, on Tuesday, April 10th; the Chicago Theatre in Chicago, IL, on Thursday, April 12th; the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee, WI, on Friday, April 13th;, and the Royal Oak Music Theatre on Saturday, April 14th.  For a list of future tour dates, head over to their website.

Rodrigo y Gabriela concert photos by Dave Lichterman

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