To give you an idea of how long Santana has been an integral part of popular music, the band was one of the few then-unknown rock acts to perform at the legendary Woodstock Music Festival. Last Friday night, almost 46 years to the day later, Santana performed at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Of course there have been countless personnel changes but one thing remains constant–the main for whom the band is named after, Carlos Santana, is still front and center, playing virtuoso electric guitar in a manner that is rivaled only perhaps by Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen.
With a catalog spanning over four decades it would be impossible for Santana to perform the vast majority of it in a two-hour concert. Thus while many baby boomers hoping to hear such nuggets from their high school and college days as “Evil Ways,” “No One To Depend On,” and “Everybody’s Everything,” they shouldn’t have bitterly disappointed when they weren’t performed. The only two chestnuts from Santana’s ‘70s salad days,“Oye Como Va,” made famous originally by Puerto Rican band leader Tito Puente, and “Black Magic Woman,” were played as part of the encore.
What was bothersome however was that the band would play one long jam after another without identifying what they were performing by name. Santana has to understand that this isn’t a Beach Boys where concert-goers know the set lists by heart. “Maria, Maria” and “Corazon” are not “Barbara Ann” and “California Girls.”
Santana has always been terrific at covering songs such as their take on the Zombies’ “She’s Not There” and Dennis Yost & the Classics IV’s “Stormy.” Unfortunately, neither of them were performed. Instead, the band broke into a lengthy rendition of the Champs’ 1958 instrumental hit, “Tequila,” which many remember for its use in the 1985 Pee Wee Herman flick, “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.” The band enhanced the tune by adding Spanish lyrics.
Few Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees are more laid back than Carlos Santana. Other than thanking the crowd for attending, he said little and basically chewed gum while playing guitar in a stationary position on stage for two hours. He did show a wry sense of humor by finishing songs in an unexpected manner such as dishing off a few riffs of Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” and Xavier Cugat’s “Brazil.”
The strangest moment of the show was when Santana’s two lead vocalists, Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay, had the crowd singing along and waving their arms to the “na-na-na-na-na” chorus from the insipid 1972 America hit, “A Horse With No Name.”
During the show, Carlos brought his son, Salvador, an up-and-coming musician, on stage to perform a number of his self-penned tunes. Salvador is a very talented keyboardist who also possesses a fine voice. The problem is that he is not much of a lyricist judging by his first song, “Summer’s Day” whose first three lines are “It’s a summer’s day/gonna kick it in the bay/I’m off to LA.”
On the whole, Santana gave the Forest Hills audience a smooth (full pun intended) night of entertainment.