Listen closely and you can hear it. Amid the flourishes of Latin strumming and percussive hand slapping, there it is—the tortured sound of grumbling heavy metal shrieks through the otherwise intimate music of acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.
The story is well known—as Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero have told it many times—two teenage kids grew up in Mexico, bonded over their love for metal music and later played in a band together before a random, self-imposed, exile to Dublin, Ireland.
And that's where the music changed. That's where the two went through a musical metamorphosis. The pair doffed overt thrash metal guitar rock—for the most part—and honed their acoustic prowess.
"Our heavy metal band, Tierra Acida, didn't succeed and we figured our chances of getting a record deal were over," Sanchez told Premier Guitar in 2010. "We were tired of chasing after [a deal], and the only thing that we knew for sure was that we just wanted to play music. [...] So we moved to Europe. To make the move easier and lighten the load, we decided to sell all of our electric instruments and travel with two cheap acoustic guitars."
Sixteen years and five studio albums later, it's clear they made the right move.
Busking on street corners, playing small venues and the exposure to European styles of guitar fingering—blended with their first love of metal—endowed Sanchez and Quintero with the ability to take those two acoustic guitars and transition into musicians capable of intimate unplugged performances and, eventually, packed house shows at stadium venues like Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Their 2006, self-titled, breakout album showcased their commitment to a newly-minted thrash acoustic genre with songs like the thunderous track "Diablo Rojo." (Or "Red Devil," if that helps convince you of the homage to metal their music really represents.) On that track, Sanchez's fingers whiz through dazzling melodies—mimicking growling vocals—while Quintero hammers her right hand into the guitar amid blurred strumming, creating rich bass and pulverizing percussion; elements that beg for the head to bang more than for the toes to tap.
Since that sophomore album in 2006, Sanchez and Quintero definitely still blow out the brains of concert-goers with the metal aspect of their music, but the acoustic side also adds an innate intelligence to the songs they write. Think of their choices as musical frosted wheat; the music is perfect for zoning out, but also ripe for earnest interpretation and digestion. In fact, in very unlike-metal-fashion—where the instrumentation can bleed into itself creating a gory soup—Sanchez and Quintero use very crisp fingering to delineate quite intentional and intricate stories about people.
The duo's latest album, 9 Dead Alive, tackles such historical figures as Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman ("Misty Moses"), Spanish guitarist Antonio de Torres Jurado ("The Soundmaker") and Norwegian Explorer Fridtjof Nansen ("FRAM") in academic fashion.
History lessons aside, what Sanchez and Quintero bring to the table with 9 Dead Alive is still the same daredevil blend of Irish-tinged, Spanish guitar-influenced and intimate heavy metal music the two stumbled upon when they left their roots to explore the acoustic landscape of Europe while still holding on quite strongly to their love of metal.
Rodrigo y Gabriela
8 pm, Saturday, March 21
The Tower Theatre
835 NW Wall St.
Tickets $58.50-$73.50 at towertheatre.org