Rodrigo y Gabriela – review

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

In the most flattering sense of the term, Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero are one-trick ponies. The core of their performance is a rock/world-music hybrid produced on dual acoustic guitars, without vocals or other instruments. It's not your typical formula for commercial success, but, by dint of intensive touring of the 2009 album 11.11, the duo have become so popular they've sold out five nights at the Empire. "We left the beach, we left my cats," said Rodrigo at the first show, listing the sacrifices endured in order to be in London on a nippy night.

The set proffered a dazzling display of their skills, acquired as teenagers in a Mexico City heavy-metal band. That period left its imprint – this was a muscular, physical show. Gabriela played with a furiously nodding head, and they frequently came face-to-face in the duelling stance beloved of rock guitarists the world over. Songs such as Hanuman showed just how raw acoustic music could be: rhythm player Gabriela produced percussion effects by slapping her guitar, while Rodrigo slammed out a quickfire Latin melody. The song Intro, meanwhile, was dizzyingly dominated by pick-ups and effects pedals, and on Atman, a real electric guitar reared its head when they were joined by thrash-metal star Alex Skolnick, who gave the jazz-influenced tune a figurative kicking.

They could also be incredibly delicate; seating themselves on big leather ottomans for 11.11's title track, Rodrigo picked out intricate flurries of notes, while Gabriela provided hypnotic backing. Striking as the music was, though, the charms of guitar instrumentals are not limitless. The two-hour set felt long – even these most wizardly of musicians couldn't avoid repeating themselves after a while. As a unique partnership, they're certainly worth seeing, but bring a cushion.

Until 7 November. Box office: 0844 477 2000. Then touring.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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