Brilliant Beats And Sensational Strings: Fantastic Flamenco From Rodrigo y Gabriela’s New World At Koko

Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela’s latest tour, promoting 2023 LP In Between Thoughts… A New World arrived in London on a Monday night, packing out a rather expectant Koko, the virtuoso duo known for their magical guitar movements blending musical genres from nuevo flamenco to rock and heavy metal.

Rodrigo y Gabriela @ Koko

Rodrigo y Gabriela @ Koko (Abigail Shii)
Rodrigo y Gabriela @ Koko (Abigail Shii)

Opening the show was Irish folk singer David Keenan, who played a set of introspective songs. The first track, possibly Tin Pan Alley, referenced Billie Holiday and A Beautiful Life as Keenan carefully picked his way through it.

Next up, An Irish Song explored the complexities of mind wars, a touch reminiscent of Christy Moore or the more quixotic end of Van Morrison’s storytelling. Soup Of The Day offered more convoluted tales in a rather endearing fashion, though Keenan’s self-proclaimed title of “subliminal Dubliner” left some audience members scratching their heads, wondering if he understood why songs have choruses.

The 30-year-old expressed gratitude to the attentive audience before launching into Radiated Smile, which featured a somewhat effective call and response. He then closed with a Gaelic song that was well-received by most, apart from one gigaholic I ran into at the bar, who sadly didn’t get it.

After a short break, the Mexican guitar sensations Rodrigo y Gabriela took the stage, giving us a masterclass in musical prowess. Gabriela Quintero’s opening flurry of notes on her acoustic guitar leading into True Nature showed they were on dazzling form. A huge cheer went up for Egoland, as the audience greeted this new song like it was a seasoned hit with its burrito western edges. The Eye That Catches The Dream showcased a far more percussive edge in Gaby’s playing, while Rodrigo Sánchez went a touch widdly on his electric guitar.

The Soundmaker from 2014 album 9 Dead Alive took the audience through peaks and troughs – soft calm passages and intricate picking leading into wild, full-on expositions that went down a treat. Koko went loco at Gabriela’s first notes on Astrum In Corpore, with twin acoustics creating rich, soaring atmospheric textures. Plugging the new album, Rodrigo introduced Seeking Unreality, a proggy exploration with ambient textures wrung from his electric guitar.

The Ride Of The Mind featured more twin acoustic sorcery with a Segovia influence, delivering a bassy ballad. It was then time for Gabriela to have a chat with her adoring audience before the acoustic witchery of Monster, which felt like a cantata. Diablo Rojo saw Rodrigo play the acoustic guitar on the stand as well as his electric guitar, switching back and forth to add extra devilish textures with some Deerhunter-style cadences. The brilliant Tamacun, with its Cuban rhythms, whipped up a storm, driving the 1,500-strong crowd into a frenzy.

Gabriela introduced The Simurgh as a Sufi poem from their orchestral album, with Rodrigo switching between guitars once more, bringing a spiritual edge. Gabriela then played the most bewitching solo as her fingers flew across the frets, landing her finesse somewhere between Gabor Szabo and Django Reinhardt.

Finding Myself Leads Me To You showcased neo-classical brilliance, with John Williams’ influence evident in the fluid nuance within Gabriela’s playing. They closed the set with the only song that had any vocals, Descending To Nowhere, which featured three brief snatches of vocoder-enhanced vocals from Rodrigo, whose electric playing sounded rather triumphant.

For the encore, the duo descended into the audience to play Dublin, which was far more Cuban/Mexican than Irish, with call and response hey-hey-heys from the crowd that parted to make room. They returned to the stage to take us back to early hit Hanuman from the 11:11 album, played with fast duelling guitars and plenty of bang from Gabriela’s percussive right hand. A final round of thanks from the duo, and title track of the new album In Between Thoughts… A New World closed the show, going down like the hit it is.

Rodrigo y Gabriela continue their tour, leaving a trail of awe-struck audiences in their wake.

Live review of Rodrigo y Gabriela @ Koko, London on 24th June 2024 by Simon Phillips. Photography by Abigail Shii

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