For the third installment of this year’s KCRW World Festival, the famed Santa Monica radio station presented perhaps its most eclectic bill of the summer with local indie standout Lord Huron, the Gypsy-tinged, folk / indie-folk quartet DeVotchKa and the mindboggling-ly talented acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Lord Huron’s brief, yet serviceable dinner time set was comprised mostly of songs from his critically-acclaimed debut LP Lonesome Dreams (2012) like the extended “Time To Run.” The set closed with an excellent rendering of “The Stranger” from the Mighty EP.
DeVotchKa’s set was all over the place -- at one minute the quartet had a croon-ish, fully-fleshed out chamber pop sound reminiscent of bands like Grizzly Bear and replete with an expanded string section. The next minute it was a more jangled, upbeat sound on tunes like “Contrabanda” and “We’re Leaving”. Sousaphone, strings, accordions and more made DeVotchKa’s set feel somewhat like a festival in itself. All over the stylistic map but thoroughly enjoyable.
Finally, the night’s headliners took the stage and made it abundantly clear that they were ready to conquer the near 18,000 capacity Hollywood Bowl. In 2011, Rodrigo y Gabriela made their first appearance at the legendary natural amphitheatre, but had the help of the LA Philharmonic to pique the interest of season ticket holders and ensure a large turnout. On this Sunday night, the set was almost entirely in acoustic duo form (save a couple solos and a few songs with a guest keyboard player from C.U.B.A.) and the crowd size and intensely focused response indicated that they are ready to take the globe by storm in a more substantial capacity.
Rodrigo’s stunning and fiery fretwork would make many of the most talented and quick-firing metal guitarists envious. Gabriela’s strengths contrast that of Rodrigo in a big way, with a more percussive and rawer style that almost entirely escapes describing. While there’s a metal lilt to her style as well, Gabriela’s flamenco background is readily apparent and her solo portion of the set was perhaps the most memorable musical highlights of the night -- it was the kind of thing that leaves people shaking their heads in disbelief with jaws agape once the jam ended.
However, it wasn’t all lightning-paced quick pickin’ fireworks, and some of the most rewarding musical moments came during deft, lustrous and mellifluous intros and interludes that absolutely shimmered with tonal beauty (such as the one that began the show). The duo played several tracks from their first two records like the metallic “Hanuman” and the twisted and distorted crowd pleaser “Buster Voodoo” early on before debuting a number of new tracks. The stage banter from each member was equally entertaining, off-the-cuff and kind of oddly charming (even when Rodrigo continued to let f-bombs “slip”). Finally, the set closed with their most well-known cut “Tamacun,” sending everyone home happy and fulfilled after a full program of eclectic musical offerings.
The show wasn’t for any reason other than to return to the famed venue -- the band is currently well past the promotional cycle for the last record and about to record a follow-up. With only two members and no electric guitars, Rodrigo y Gabriela managed to deliver one of the most intense and fulfilling rock shows I’ve seen all year. Bravo.