Note that this is not necessarily a value judgment so much as a statement of fact. This was no gathering of the young and the beautiful. This was a gathering of a very specific group of aging people, a group which caused the gentleman behind me to exclaim “I’m 48 years old, and I’ve never seen so much gray hair in my life.” This show was by old people, for old people, and it was this lot (with an odd assortment of youthful faces peppered through the crowd like streaks of color in a graying mane) that danced energetically to every beat and loudly sang along with every family tune. These were the people who had followed Rod Stewart and Santana through the course of their career, and never gave up the love for the music, and this devotion brought the lot of them to the show last night.
On the surface, the mix of Rod Stewart and Santana seems like an odd one. But Santana himself describes their similarities quite simply, as he notes that both of them play “black music for white people.” At first this threw me off, as Stewart-isms like “Forever Young” and “Wake Up Maggie” seemed to be so distant from that classic rock sound that I couldn’t quite see the comparison, but when Stewart opened the show with a very rocking rendition of “Having a Party,” complete with a backup band decked out like they were heading out to the Ed Sullivan Show, it became more clear that there was quite a bit of the Motown sound to a number of tracks from Stewart’s catalog. Santana was absolutely correct in his assessment, diplomatically saying in one sentence that he and Stewart were playing what could arguably be considered a “safe” and “approachable” sort of ethnic rock that has kept a following hooked for roughly 40 years.
As for the performances themselves, they were absolutely wild. Santana still shreds after all of these years, and the crowd was on their feet for practically every piece thrown their way, from “Oye Como Va” to “Black Magic Woman” to a Rob Thomas-less rendition of “Smooth” (which was actually rather disappointing without his energetic vocals). While Santana was obviously the star of his part of the show, he was very willing to not just grant his band stage time but to openly encourage them to express themselves through their solos, throwing the spotlight to practically everyone in the band, from keys to percussion to his backup guitarist, whom he sat aside and played tambourine for as the man stepped up and played a short cover of The Police’s “Roxanne.”
Rod Stewart’s performance was equally satisfying, a fantastic balance of musical awareness and stage presence which really served to energize the crowd. Stewart navigated a well-timed setlist to perfection, sneaking offstage twice for outfit changes, once while Santana played a blistering guitar solo, and again when one of his backup singers took the stage to belt out a soulful and solid cover of CCR’s “Proud Mary.” Stewart even showed off a golden leg, blasting signed soccer balls into the audience during a rendition of “Hot Legs.”
Overall, the duo of Rod Stewart and Santana were a sort of weaponized musical act, designed for the purpose of engaging and entertaining a very specific target audience, a goal which they seemed to have achieved with abandon. It was an absolute delight to see an aging woman leaving the show turn to her husband and loudly proclaim “Santana was awesome tonight, honey” and that moment, possibly even more than the standing ovations and the general sense of enjoyment from the crowd, speaks to the success of this show at reaching its target audience.
Anyone else who happened to be entertained in the act can just be considered a very fortunate form of collateral damage.
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