Red Rocks Amphitheater is a special place. It tends to push artists to give their best, to try new things, and to participate in unique collaborations. Over the past few years several bands have been been inviting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to join them at the historic venue, imbuing the performances with a sense of grandeur and glory that is difficult to match. Last Sunday, the speed-metal-turned-flamenco players from Mexico City known as Rodrigo y Gabriela enhanced their 3rd appearance at Red Rocks with a little help from a large assortment of strings and horns. The result was a magical evening of perfect accompaniments, gorgeous harmonies, and transcendent melodies.
The night opened with a short yet spirited performance from New Orleans-based blues rocker Anders Osborne. His three piece band (Drums and Bass backing Osborne on Guitar and Vocals) was fun, raw, and energetic as they worked through a mix of covers and originals. The CSO was kind enough to provide some accompaniment for Osborne's band as well. The combination of Rock and Classical was good but the audio levels were not quite right and the Orchestra was difficult to pick up at times. As if recognizing this, Osborne gave the Orchestra their due with his finishing tune “Higher Ground” which featured the front man singing vocals over orchestration after sending his band offstage.
Rodrigo y Gabriela appeared just after 8:30 as the sun was going down behind us. It was clear immediately that the duo, although no stranger to large venues, are nostalgic for the small clubs they toured at in their early days. They opened their portion of the show as a two-piece, sitting on the rail that separates the first row from the stage. It was a strong gesture of intimacy for their fans who have been following them for years. Their initially minimal stage show helps to shed light on how they have made it so far; Rodrigo's power-chord approach melds perfectly with Gabriela's staggered, rhythmic bursts of melody. It is amazing to consider how much sound they are able to make with only a pair of guitars. The speed and proficiency with which they play gives them as full a sound as any four-piece rock band, so you can imagine how staggering it was when they finally invited the full complement of the Colorado Symphony onstage. The sonic onslaught was beautiful and overpowering all at once. The collaborations were well-crafted and well-rehearsed, the horn blasts and string trills providing and epic background while Rod struck a power stance and Gabriela bounced around the stage with an almost impossible energy. The Orchestra seemed as entranced as the audience; all eyes were locked on the players as they each took their turn at a solo while the CSO remained onstage. The night finished with Rod y Gab thanking the CSO for their help before sending them away. Rather than winding down however, the duo continued to play well past their scheduled 10:00 curfew. They returned for three stunning encores featuring an array of new material that Rodrigo revealed would be on the forthcoming album they are heading into the studio to record next month. Bidding us a good evening and thanking us for our support in their charming, heavily-accented broken English, Rodrigo y Gabriela triumphantly left the stage for the evening. One would hope that the success of this show leads to more orchestral collaborations from these two, or at the very least a live album documenting the experiment. For now, you can catch re-runs of the concert on AXS TV in multi-camera high-def. I highly recommend that you take the time check it out.