Review + Photos: Rodrigo y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. Were En Fuego Last Night at The Paramount

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Photos by Keegan Hamilton
Rodrigo and three members of C.U.B.A. rock the efe out at the Paramount.
How often do you come across a group of musicians that have absolutely mastered their instruments? Lots of folks can get on stage and rock a show, but true virtuosos are few and far between. Rodrigo y Gabriela coax incredible sounds out of their guitars -- a mind-blowing array noises you never thought possible -- and they somehow manage to make it look easy. That is the epitome of mastery.

Gabriela is especially amazing, if only because her style is so unique. Using her palms and fingertips, she slaps the body of her guitar and rakes her fingers across the strings while holding down chords. The result is a hybrid percussion/string instrument, and the rhythm is sometimes like a DJ scratching out a break on the turntables. Then she hits the wah pedal and funks up the sound, laying down a perfect backbeat for Rodrigo's blistering solos.

And oh how he solos. He strikes a sculpted rocker pose and works scale after scale until the high e string is wailing for mercy. He plucks the strings so rapidly it's almost as if the notes are coming out on top of one another. Then he shoots Gabriela a sly grin, slides his hands up and down the fretboard, stomps the effects box, and shreds a heavy metal riff on the acoustic, or his silver and black Gibson Yamaha SG.

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That's the same impressive performance I'd seen before from Rodrigo y Gabriela: just two people churning out an impressive amount of sound, and having a blast while they do it. This time around, however, they added a few other master musicians to their show. Last night was the first stop on their North American tour in support of their album Area 52, which features the five-piece orchestra C.U.B.A.

The addition of drums, bass, horns, keyboards, and auxiliary percussion had the potential to distract from Rodrigo y Gabriela's technical brilliance, but they have mostly managed to spice up their old songs with some salsa-inspired rhythms. Occasionally Gabriela's deft guitar slapping was drown out by the drums, timbales, shakers, guiras, or one of the other countless percussion instruments on stage, but the new players add energy to the overall performance, and depth to the more downtempo numbers.

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Each C.U.B.A. member was given a moment in the spotlight, and the bass player -- a burly, bald-headed Afro-Cuban -- nearly stole the show with a nimbly-plucked solo coupled with some "Da-do-dee-da-doo-da-da-da" scatting. Pianist Alex Wilson also drew a standing ovation for his reworking of one of Rodrigo y Gabriela's signature, looping guitar licks on the keys.

Rodrigo y Gabriela, however, still commanded the stage and the charmed the audience. With a plume of incense smoke rising from behind her monitor, Gabriela would often lift the headstock of her guitar and tuck her face behind the body, losing herself in the moment. Rodrigo picked up the mic and talked -- in English tinged with an Irish accent -- about their previous visits to Seattle, their favorite vegan restaurant in town, and the early support they received from what used to be 103.7 FM, The Mountain. "It's gone now," he said. "It's a shame."

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They played almost continuously for more than two hours, taking just a few short breaks and finishing with an extended encore set that had the audience clapping and whooping, and a guy with dreadlocks dancing up and down the aisles. Because everything is instrumental and the riffs are all vaguely similar, it sometimes sounds as if they are playing an extended versions of every song jam band-style. But each time around they somehow manage to speed up that riff -- tweaking it, building it up, and laying it to waste with scorching solos. Nobody plays the guitar quite like them, and that is really the mark of a true virtuosos.

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