The summer air dances before the solstice at Wolf Trap, thrumming with music, thick with humidity, a gentler crowd settling onto its lawns. In early June, as the sun sets and the scent of flowers still percolates on humid breezes, Wolf Trap finds its easiest sense of beauty.
The Filene Center at Wolf Trap opens early to let the lawngoers stake out spots, lay down blankets, and enjoy food and drinks (wine bottles tend to flow freely), whereas the seated crowd tends to arrive late. The bagged entry line (how else would you bring food and wine?) extended for the better part of a quarter mile, emphasizing the importance of an early arrival or a plan of action (personally, I bring a friend to go in the non-bag line with a blanket).
More friends arrived, and the sloping hill slowly became a patchwork quilt populated by music fans, all here to experience the almost-incongruous joy of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s songs. Incongruous because acoustic flamenco metal music isn’t really a thing that sounds right, though they sure make it sound perfect. Begun more than a decade ago in Ireland — they moved looking for a different music scene — the pair of Mexican musicians drew the eyes and ears of Irish stalwart Damien Rice, ultimately resulting in their first album (re-Foc, 2002). They gathered a wider Irish audience, gaining support spots, and when their second (eponymous) album came out in 2006, their popularity soared and began to spread around the globe via TV, late-night slots, and glowing press.
Rodrigo y Gabriela grew their audience further with the next few albums — the explosive 11:11 and propulsive 9 Dead Alive — as well as releasing several live albums, all while touring consistently. This year, they released Mettavolution in April, a small record with a giant cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” begging for listening. The original songs on the album run on the shorter-than-usual side, though each song shines and stands out. From the dreamlike and winding “Witness Tree” to the dancy “Cumbé” and the restrained acoustics of “Electric Soul”, they dig into their many influences.
Stream Mettavolution by Rodrigo y Gabriela on Spotify:
Their metal background shines on “Krotona Days,” the set opener at Wolf Trap. A song with moments of wild abandon and an almost-frantic pace to it, Rodrigo and Gabriela sat beside each other on a makeshift stair, evoking their backgrounds as buskers in Ireland. They rippled through “Witness Tree” after that, the screen behind them changing, Gabriela walking to the edge of the stage to play closer to the audience; in response, they leaned like trumpet vines to the sun, edging closer and closer with hands outstretched.
Rodrigo spoke to the audience then, keying us into the hope they have for the record, for humans to overcome their differences and celebrate their common grounds. They both stood for “The Soundmaker,” encircled by a half-moon of tower lights and the screen behind them showing a close-up of their deft playing for anyone too far from the stage, a little privilege few artists offer.
They took the audience to outer space next, I moment I felt certain would come later in the set, playing “Echoes” to an enraptured crowd. It is hard to articulate the sheer power this duo has, but this might just capture a sliver of it: not a single person on the lawn held a conversation while they played. As anyone who has ever attended a concert knows, audience silence is a rarity, but Rodrigo y Gabriela held the crowd so in thrall that they achieved a set of relative silence, the occasional “Wow” and “Did you see that?” and “Holy shit” the only verbal punctuations; I watched friends silently point at the foods and drinks they wanted, eschewing the need for words.
Other highlights from the night included the set-closing “Tamacun,” a song many people first heard on Breaking Bad and a common introduction to the band, or “Diablo Rojo,” the first song they ever played on American television. Or possibly when they returned for the encore to play “Electric Soul,” and then Gabriela played alone onstage before Rodrigo returned to sunder the night on electric guitar with “Hanuman”.
It is perhaps important — maybe even essential — to emphasize that these two musicians sound like an orchestra, but are somehow a duo. It gives hope that we can all accomplish a little more than we think we can.
Here are some more photos from Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Wolf Trap Filene Center on June 7 2019. All pictures courtesy and copyright of Matt Ruppert.