It takes something special to prise festival-goers away from the headline billing, yet Hermanos Gutiérrez were able to do just that at Cross the Tracks, creating an instrumental enclave in the packed-out, mid-sized Locomotion tent.
Kelis could only be heard faintly between tracks, as could Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge’s NxWorries project later on. But the Ecuadorian-Swiss brothers – Alejandro Gutiérrez and Estevan Gutiérrez – play with such mesmerism, you’d hardly think there was anything else going on around you at all. You wouldn’t want there to be.
Fans of Tiny Desk might have recently caught their session at the start of the year, giving a sense of the dexterity of their playing style and its slow-but-steady emotional pacing. Their Cross the Tracks show was only really greater in audience size; their simple, pared-back setup is among the least flashy stagings you’re likely to see from a festival act after the sun’s gone down. It’s designed to simply let the music do the talking, as Estevan burrowed into his guitar and occasional bongos, beneath his hat, whilst his brother Alejandro mostly sat forward in his open, balsam brown jacket.
As they transitioned from ‘El Bueno Y El Malo’, the opening title track of their latest album, into ‘Rain God’ from 2020’s Hijos Del Sol (Children of the Sun), you began to appreciate how consistent yet distinctive their tunes are.
Every track provides a sense of journey, often mapped out by Alejandro’s use of the lap steel guitar (played so coolly, lying horizontal on his lap), his brother Estevan almost noodling across the top. It’s akin to a drawn-out, Latin American take on Steve Reich, with layers repeating on top of each other, steadily progressing, picking you up in one spot and dropping you in another without you barely noticing.
For that reason, it’s the ultimate road trip music, built for a drive across the desert – across the tracks, even. And even though we were stationary in the aptly-titled Locomotion tent, there was a genuine sense of momentum.
Crowd interaction was sparse, save for a “muchas gracias, how are you guys?” after ‘Rain God’ and the occasional mention of the next track’s title, with an adoring fan yelping at the sound of, “Our next track is called ‘El Camino De Mi Alma’” – another opening title track, this time from the brother’s 2018 sophomore album.
The only real commentary came from Estevan to introduce the track ‘Thunderbird’, which was written with The Black Keys’ Daniel Auerbach, whose label Easy Eye Sound released El Bueno Y El Malo. This meandering number is perhaps the most classically Western-sounding, with the lights being brought up briefly after catching you from thinking you were on set with John Wayne.
For all its sonic loops and repetitions, there’s a real emotional weight that lies at the heart of their tunes and, in turn, their set. Barely a soul left, as we plugged into an hour’s runtime that both felt like an age and like it flew by. By the time they finished their final track, acknowledging the ending by a typically humble “it’s been a pleasure”, they were in many ways the dream festival act, wrapping-up on time, with no extravagant set to derig.
Their ending even left half an hour left to catch NxWorries – although, in truth, I could have happily left the festival gates at that point. If music is a means of escapism, Hermanos Gutiérrez supply it in spades.