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Published: 2008/03/02
by Randy Ray

Rodrigo y Gabriela and Mother Hips Acoustic, Rialto Theatre, Tucson, AZ- 2/12

At the intimate and jam-packed Rialto in downtown Tucson, in one of the rare hip sections of Arizona, Rodrigo y Gabriela finally hit the desert after two visa and health-challenged 2007 postponements. To say it was well worth the long wait is both a clichnd a fact. The extraordinary Latin dynamic duo played like a tandem possessed on what can only be described as acoustic guitars’ in name only. In fact, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quinterooriginally from Mexico City but obviously, relocating to Dublin, Ireland due to its many similaritiesplayfully offered up the two-fingered devil horns on occasion in both mocking and playful tribute to their long list of influences including blues, flamenco, gypsy, jazz, Latino machismo strut music and yes, heavy metal thunder.

It is that latter trait that began their relationship in tune deconstruction and continues, chord-stacking bravado and punky chutzpah, creating a new reconstruction of what one could do on an acoustic axe, using the instrument as equal parts melodic tool and percussion boxGabrielaand foraging through the forest of notes to find new sonic goldRodrigo. The result is intoxicating, invigorating and a guarantee crowd stomp blitzkrieg. By the time the duo swept into an instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” the audience was under their spell, singing all of the verses and choruses at a high, surprisingly in-tune volume with nary a prompt from the guitarists.

Of the two, it is Quintero who is, perhaps not surprisingly, the more charismatic as she sits, plucks, hammers, assaults and exhorts her instrument and the crowd in a wonderfully enchanted performance that offered more than a few exaggerated echoes of the stagecraft movements of the Great Sorcerer, Zeplord Jimmy Pagea man who also knows how to move beyond technical prowess to remind anyone within range that dynamics are often coming directly from the theatrical soul. To be sure, Rod y Gab have played a great deal together. After years of practice and, although the performance appeared scriptedwith dramatic color and black-and-white films of the duo on the theatre backdrop to add _magnifique dramatis effectus_their delivery of various originals and covers including Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and the evening’s highlight, an absolutely earth shattering version of the complex, multi-sectional Metallica masterwork, “Orion” was filled with volcanic improvisatory debauchery. They have honed their performance to a point where it often resembled a drunken soccer match with everything on the line and everyone in full celebratory mood and that’s, wellthat’s rock n’ roll.

Don’t let “acoustic guitars” and “duo” make you think this is some sort of hippie, folksy Plant-y walk in Ganja Park with a bluegrass shuffle. This is rich, sweat n’ soul music played by two former street musicians who have no intention of returning to the safety of a band or the ancient Dublin street corners or that fucking hardcore, kick-you-in-the-skinny-ass metal bar back in Mexico anytime soon. Now go write some more tunes, man.

Mother Hips don’t have to write more tunes, bro, because they released another new album last April, Kiss the Crystal Flake. However, they also want to pair up in duos here and there and display their acoustic chops. This time out, it was Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono on guitars and vocals. Their performance was brief, as opening acts go, they offered the de rigueur 30-minute set but, it was a pretty strong show that worked quite well because it wasn’t quite the comical and wonderfully over-the-top weirdness of the Skinny Singers less Jackie Greene or the Mother Hips Lite, either. It was just two really good musicians, band mates and songwriters who have toured for dog years, getting together and just playing their songs in a stripped and surreal environment and receiving a very warm response like, “Sheesuzwho the hell are those cats? They’re great.” (And sure enough, as I write this, I come across “Mission in Vain” on YouTube from the Rialto and a grand example of the duo’s sanguine chemistryalso, a few sites that reference their performance so it isn’t just the coffee feeding my memory the good critical vibes.)

Actually, their performance was an equally subtle bookend to the headlining bravado of what was to come on this evening and a great counterpoint to that metal-on-Tequila act. This Hip(pie) duo writes some pretty good songs that can float into a full band’s set or, not as the case may be. Like Rod y Gab, they can be derivative but that would be a lazy overall assessment that misses the core of their artistic statement. We, of course, in this rare bit of Arizona desert hipness at the Rialto Theatre, were fortunate to get these two duos on the same evening. Would I rather see the Mother Hips in full band and true Northern California trippiness or the great Greene with Bluhm as the Skinny Singers? Yes, but that depends on the gig. On this evening, all scores were passed and all expectationsif there were any to begin withwere met. More, please. In the meantime, the Mother Hips returned to the road on February 29including two stops at the Mercury Lounge in New York in early Mayand one can only hope that this particular acoustic duo has a chance to pop in here, there and everywhere.

- Randy Ray plays the acoustic laptop and sings in silence with an imaginary set of devil horns here, there and at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com. Ironically, he is an Irish-Americanthird generation, natchwho once lived in East Los Angeles with economically-challenged Mexican-Americans. Alas, he has no recordings of his mythical street corner performances.

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