Rodrigo y Gabriela bring their ‘acoustic heavy metal’ to Berkeley on Saturday

Acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela will perform at The UC Theatre Saturday. Photo: Jim Mimna

It’s a fair bet you’ve encountered Rodrigo y Gabriela’s mix of heavy metal with their Latin-tinged, hammering acoustic guitars (don’t call it flamenco guitar, they warn).

The duo played at the White House for President Obama and had a run of late-night television appearances when they first had album success in the US in the late oughts. For a while, their catchy guitar riffs were frequent interludes on various NPR programs. (Personal note: I bought a Rodrigo y Gabriela album on iTunes after hearing them interviewed by Linda Werthheimer on Weekend Edition which probably says volumes about my musical preferences.)

Saturday night, you can hear Rodrigo y Gabriela perform at the UC Theatre as part of their summer tour.

The success of Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero did not follow a conventional path. They played in a going-nowhere heavy metal band in their native Mexico City in the early ’90s. When a hoped-for record deal fell through, they moved in 1997 to play in bars and hotels in the Pacific resort of Ixtapa. That didn’t prove a road to success either, so they left Mexico for Dublin, Ireland, despite speaking no English.


There, they built a small following by playing gigs in pubs and busking on Grafton Street. So far, so destined for obscurity like 99.9% of the musicians you see performing on the streets. But it was while they were in Ireland that they devised the cover versions that eventually made their name.

One of the musician friends they made in Dublin introduced them to a friend who agreed to become their manager. An eponymous album, Rodrigo y Gabriela, was released there in 2004, and entered the Irish album charts at number one, ahead of Arctic Monkeys and Johnny Cash. That small market success led to an international release in 2006, which, in turn, led to successful touring, an MTV feature, and, eventually, a steady string of prestigious gigs, including several performances at the Hollywood Bowl, the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall.

The duo’s influences are certainly broad: Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Metallica, Guns n Roses, Carlos Santana, as well as traditional Latin music.

According to Quintero, the difference between listening to their recorded music and seeing live performances is dramatic.

“The live show is different in the sense that the energy is much more powerful, it’s quite energetic, very responsive,” she said.

London’s Independent, reviewing one of the live gigs, tried to capture the appeal: “Rodrigo y Gabriela’s secret is maybe quite simple. They are resourceful musicians, and are open-hearted, happy entertainers. That, very often, is what people want.”

Rodrigo y Gabriela perform at The UC Theatre, Saturday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m., 2036 University Ave.