Dublin record label Rubyworks is 10, and they’re putting on quite a party. They deserve it too: the list of local and wider-scale acts that might have had more stunted careers without the labels backing is a long one. Inspirational Mexicans Rodrigo Y Gabriela were a guiding light in the early days. Since 2002, Rubyworks have seen the likes of Aslan, Sinead O’Connor, The Minutes, Hothouse Flowers, Jerry Fish and the rest of tonight’s line up pass through their doors.
Wallis Bird is the perfect illustration of what the label is all about. The bubbly guitarist is a flamboyant live performer, full of effortless poppy sunshine underpinned by a fun-loving hippie-chic take on life. Wallis comes to life live, powering through tracks lifted largely from Rubyworks-era second album New Boots. Since then, Bird’s taken a slightly darker direction, but tonight her husky-edged voice and vibrant demeanour bring tracks like ‘To My Bones’ and ‘An Idea About Mary’ into an animated and boisterous state.
Ryan Sheridan’s story has a history as tied to tonight’s venue as it is to Rubyworks. The singer was ‘discovered’ busking outside The Olympia by the venue’s manager, and lifted into the Irish music mainstream from an almost entirely unknown position, even recording a video on the building’s roof. Live, he’s all about some impressive extended guitar solos, taking on a rocky disposition and bouncing about the stage to the lesser-known album tracks. Sheridan has impressive energy, but can also seem samey: the variety in his set lies almost entirely in the singles, which stand high above the less than inspiring whole.
The most impressive thing about Sheridan live, in fact, is his drummer. Playing both the cajon (box drum) and a simultaneous, gorgeous bass guitar rhythm with his feet, the talent practically seeps from the man, and as Sheridan and his guitarist leap around him, he seems like the heart of the set. Things really fly when the driving ‘Jigsaw’ comes out towards the end, and the cover of The White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army’ goes down a treat, but we’re for all the energy and quality vocals, the consistency of his song writing just proves a drain.
Rodrigo Y Gabriela are also prodigiously talented guitarist, so much so that you can imagine a three-chord pop-punk band stumbling across them at a festival, weeping a little and laying down their instruments on the spot. Tonight is their first show in the post Cuban Orchestra era, and has a sparse look about it against the huge backdrop of the unadorned Olympia stage. The sound the pair are able to make using only a guitar remains exceptional. Gabriela’s tapped-out percussion additions and Rodrigo’s slamming chords are fast-paced and finicky, demonstrating an intense and beguiling complexity that belies its simplistic two-instrument production.
At times the duo seem too good to be true, but tonight’s set – perhaps with a little less band-only practise – isn’t quite as exceptional as the pair sometimes manage. Staple track Hanuman has always been at the heart of the live set, but tonight it loops around almost incessantly, poking riffs into every space along the way. It’s a brilliant track, and can hold the set together, but at times it also seems overused. Metallica’s ‘One’ – their heaviest moment reworked to show the intense guitar-yielding ability of Hetfield, Ulrich and co – takes things the other way, lifting the roof off The Olympia in a moment of pure intensity.
The rhythm, use of both sound and silence and those two gorgeous solo moments that show that even with one guitar, the pair are capable of simply exceptional stylings make Rod Y Gab stand out a mile above most other live bands that pass through even this beautiful corner of Dublin. It takes having seen the pairing half a dozen times to recognize tonight as even slightly sub-par. While most professional musicians can only dream of this level of ability. This particular pair, boldly brilliant and fun loving as they are, have been still better. What’s really dumbfounding is how good that means they really are.