It’s been two weeks since our whirlwind weekend of back-to-back concerts and I am still stirred by each of the performances. While we hadn’t planned to travel from Wichita to Kansas City on a Friday, then travel from Kansas City to Salina on Saturday (I bought the tickets thinking the concerts were a week a part, not realizing they were 24 hours apart until about three weeks prior), it was one of the best mistakes I’ve ever made. The combined performances, the venues, the company, even the travel, made for one memorable weekend. And, while the acts could not have been more different musically, I was slightly surprised by their similarities.
On Friday, we were treated to Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings at The Folly Theater. If you get the opportunity, you should experience a show at the Folly, a beautifully renovated venue whose history began in 1900 and included such acts as the Marx Brothers and the Gypsy Rose Lee. Currently, they feature a Chamber Music series, a Discovery Series featuring young talent, and they have a Folly Jazz Series that is tempting our immediate return. We first saw Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings at Wichita’s own historic theater, The Orpheum, in 2011. As she has not released any new music and announced they “are not really on tour, so there’s no set list,” the show seemed impromptu with the two of them deciding songs between sips of water and tuning guitars. The set up was simple, their performance captivating, and I was moved to tears when their third song of the evening was The Way It Will Be, a song which seems to haunt its way into my dreams and linger as backdrop music for days and days. Rawlings was remarkable, at times shooting notes machine gun-like into the audience while Welch lulled us into their stories. Mike Warren with The Pitch does an excellent job of describing the evening, so I won’t go into much more detail but, as is every time I listen to Gillian Welch, I hear the creak of footsteps on an overused wood porch, taste the tartness of loneliness, smell the warmth of whiskey breath, and sense the long days and dark nights of dust-smattered hope. I thought they were brilliant. Friday night came to a close with late night conversations over beer with my brother and sister-in-law in the comfort of their living room in Overland Park. Success.
Round Two: Rodrigo and Gabriela at The Stiefel Theater in Salina, Kansas. I have been waiting to see this duo since we discovered their live show with the Cuban orchestra, C.U.B.A, on Palladia one Friday night. I was immediately drawn in by their intensity, an intensity most likely drawn from their heavy metal background. Yes, heavy metal. As Rodrigo stated during one of their breaks, “when you think of two Mexican acoustic guitar players, you think traditional, flamenco, maybe mariachi, not…rock band.” But, that is exactly who they are. A rock band. Their style is unique and while many describe their music as Nuevo-flamenco-folk-rock-instrumental, I’m not sure it can be clearly labeled, other than Jose Feliciano meets Metallica. They are concise, melodic, quick-fingered, energetic, aggressive, and a hell of a lot of fun. When Rodrigo inquired if there were any metal heads in the audience, I knew we were in for a hip-swaying-head-banging evening. Again, with no set list, they took requests from the audience, playing Metallica’s Orion and segueing into Battery. Within a lengthier solo, they tucked in refrains of Stairway to Heaven, and Rodrigo even performed and sang Radiohead’s Creep, again, at the request of an audience member. Soon, the audience was standing, dancing, throwing the goat, head banging, clapping, and completely fueled by their frenetic playing on stage. (Performing Hanuman in 2010)
When it was her turn to engage the audience while Rodrigo took a break, Gabriela spoke truth when she said she was “the drummer of the band.” Throughout the night, I was mesmerized by the shapeshifting of her hand beating against the body of the guitar, her hand at times appearing deformed or fingerless beneath the red hue of the lights. I recalled reading an article about how they’d had to take a hiatus due to stress fractures in her hand and the how and why of that hiatus became evident. She utilized every part of her guitar, swinging her long black hair over the frets, reminiscent of adolescent boys at a Megadeth concert. She blew me away. Their long relationship and musical partnership was evident in how they read one another as they played, with one look or quick movement they would shift into a different song, stop, or turn up the intensity. Simpatico. They are an act you hope never leaves the stage. True to their hard rock influence, they exited as ACDC’s For Those About to Rock blasted through the speakers.
As we stepped out into the humid night, still reeling from the show, I thought about the similarities between the two concerts. Two couples, two guitars. Simple stage set up. No tour. No set lists. Familiarity. A shared secret of rhythm and song between each couple. Musically different, captivatingly the same. There was even dancing. Gillian Welch performed a little hambone/clogging during Six White Horses. And, while it wasn’t Rodrigo Y Gabriela, their opening act, a local Kansas City band Making Movies, featured their percussionist dancing a traditional sones de tarima, where a dancer performs atop a wooden pallet or crate, amplifying the sounds of their feet. The dance pushes itself into the beating of your heart, increasing the pulse of the music, which was definitely experienced in both performances.
Two nights, two cities, two couples, two guitars, and two old theaters. A weekend long to remember.