Live at the Bunkamura Orchard Hall, January 13th, 2013.
Like many Rodrigo and Gabriela fans I jumped on the bandwagon after their 2nd album, Rodrigo and Gabriela (2006). The track list featured two cover songs: Led Zepplin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Metalica's "Orion". These tracks made the already accessible acoustic duo's sound even more palatable to new listeners. The 7 additional tracks showcased their talent to merge influences such as folk, acoustic, rock and flamenco. Their latest album Area 52 2012 is a reworking of songs originating from both Rodrigo and Gabriela and the 2009 release 11:11. Only this time, they recorded with a Cuban orchestra known as C.U.B.A. Rodrigo and Gabriela have been on my watch list since 2006, and what better opportunity would I have to see them live than at the Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Tokyo, Japan.
The Bunkamura Orchard Hall set the stage quite well for R & G. It's designed in what's called a "shoe box" format. The rectangle shape venue has deep ends with very narrow seating on the sides, offering only one or two rows of seats on the left and right side of the 2nd and 3rd level. We sat in the middle of the 32nd row of approximately 40 on the main floor with 60 seats extending either way. The floor having a slight angle offered a great sight line to the stage, making any seat on the lower level a bargin.
The Bunkamura was perhaps a bit too big for R and G from the perspective of ticket sales. No tickets were sold for the 2nd or 3rd levels and the main floor was just over 90% of it's capacity. Regardless of failing to sell out out the 2,150 capacity venue, for 105 minutes their sound reached every corner of the auditorium with conviction. The only dissapointment occured when the speakers in front of Gabriela emitted a high pitched reverb that took approximately 30 minutes trouble shoot and repair, but like true professionals R and G played through the glitch not missing a beat.
The set list covered a wide variety of songs from their studio albums, but they also managed to slip in new material throughout the show. The new tracks added a blend of anticipation and mystery to an aleady intriguing set list. They opened with a previously unreleased song driven by power chords played by Rodrigo. In a heavy metal stance with head banging, he fired up the crowd until everyone was out of their seat and clapping along. Two of the highlights during the show came when each performer stood alone on the stage and played a song without accompaiment. This allowed the audience to appreciate the playing style of each individual performer: Rodrigo's ability to trail blaze the fret board with precision and Gabriela's electrifying precussion beats.
Music director for Area 51, Alex Wilson, accompained R and G mid way through the show for a series of songs which added a foriegn element to the typical R and G acoustic sound. Wilson's tyle of piano playing complimented the duo's musical wit. His razor sharp skills attacked and released the rythms of the two guitars while at times taking the lead and other times providing the framework for a solo. The combination of the piano accompaniment, the solo performances and R and G addressing the crowd between sets helped break down the show into segments, making it easier to appreciate the experience on a variety of levels.
The crowd radiated energy thoughout the entire show. It was refreshing to be a part of a crowd that carried the rhythm through an entire song rather than just the first few measures. People swayed alongside one another and after each song came to an end, they eagerly waited to see which song would follow, with hands ready to clap on cue if asked by R or G. It was a perfect match for the passion created by an enthusiastic R and G. The only negativity I sensed from the crowd was during the technical difficulties. The murmers among the crowd hinted towards a slight dissatisfaction with sound quality.
I had my doubts going in to the theater about the potential for a show featuring only two acoustic guitars and no lyrics. I had also avoided seeing them live in the past due to their high priced tickets ($80). Yet when it was all said and done I definitelty got my moneys worth of entertainment watching R and G perform. The energy from the crowd was contagious, R and G played with passion and the mixture of released and unreleased tunes kept me on my toes. It was also impressive to see a band of native spanish speakers facilitate the show by addressing the crowd in both Japanese and English. The only spanish word came at the very end of the show, as Gabriela exited the stage left and shouted a final farewell with the wave of her hand, "Gracias!".