LIVE: Rod Stewart / Santana @ the Times Union Center, 5/23/14

Review by Greg Haymes

It was something of an odd-couple double-bill – Rod Stewart and Carlos Santana, two classic rockers who seem to have little in common other than their longevity, their devoted fan bases and the fact that they’ve each racked up a bunch of hits since kicking off their careers in the ’60s.

The tag-line for the co-headlining tour that launched at the Times Union Center recently is: The voice (Stewart). The guitar. (Santana) The songs (Stewart and Santana). And the fairly-close-to-a-sold-out crowd certainly got all of that. But the musical mismatch was evident in the fact that the two stars collaborated on only one song during the three-and-a-half-hour concert – a surprisingly tame rendition of Etta James smoldering soul classic, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” during Stewart’s set.

Looking sporty in a canary-yellow blazer and matching socks, Stewart and his 13-piece band romped right into his headlining set with “Infatuation,” at the end of which, for some reason, he was barking like a dog. The 69-year-old Stewart has had a varied career, and he touched on most of it from his rollicking days with the Faces (“Stay With Me”), through folk-rock (the show-closing “Maggie May”), his MTV days (“Hot Legs,” during which he kicked dozens of autographed soccer balls into the crowd), his R&B fixation (Sam Cooke’s “Havin’ a Party”) and sentimental if sometime schmaltzy love ballads (notably Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” buoyed by a seven-piece string section of lovely local musicians). NOTE: He wisely avoided anything from his long love affair with the Great American Songbook.

His always raspy voice was surprisingly strong, although his best vocal performances were derailed: “Reason to Believe” by his mugging and clowning around, and the booming, anthemic “Forever Young” by an overly long drum solo (to cover for one of several costume changes). But a Stewart show is really about having fun, especially for Stewart himself. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and by the time he dipped back to his disco days for the encore of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” with a nod and a wink, he was sporting a straw cowboy hat amid a chorus-line of 19 musicians as dozens of balloons dropped from the rafters.

Carlos Santana and his 10-piece band featured several selections from his new Latin music album, “Corazon,” but like Stewart he also showcased the various twists and turns of his career time-line, focusing on the Woodstock-era Latin blues of the scorching “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” and the percolating percussion duel of “Jingo,” as well as his 1999 Grammy-grabbing Latin pop blockbuster, “Supernatural” (“Maria Maria” and “Smooth,” featuring vocalists Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay). And when he ripped into the encore of “Soul Sacrifice,” the band transformed it into a musical mash-up montage that included George Gershwin, the Specials, Ennio Morricone and the Police.

Havin’ a Party (Sam Cooke)
You Wear It Well
Stay With Me (the Faces)
Tonight’s the Night
Some Guys Have All the Luck (the Persuaders)
Rhythm of My Heart
I’d Rather Go Blind (with Carlos Santana) (Etta James)
Forever Young
The First Cut Is the Deepest (Cat Stevens)
Reason to Believe (Tim Hardin)
Have I Told You Lately (Van Morrison)
Sweet Little Rock & Roller (Chuck Berry)
Proud Mary (no Rod)
You’re in My Soul
Hot Legs
Maggie May
Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?

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