There were some high and low musical points during the concert pairing of Carlos Santana and Rod Stewart Sunday in downtown St. Paul.
“It’s not a competition,” Carlos Santana explained early-on Sunday during his concert with Rod Stewart at Xcel Energy Center. “It’s complementary.
“People say: ‘What are you doing with Rod Stewart? He’s British, you’re Mexican.’ It’s the same answer: We both play black music for white people and we love to make women crazy.”
That may be true. But let’s compare and contrast how rock’s odd couple — two sixty-something Rock Hall of Famers who started in the 1960s and launched late-career comebacks engineered by record mogul Clive Davis — did on Sunday in front of 10,000 fans:
The start: Santana was smokin’ from the first number through the last, 85 minutes later. It took Stewart’s hopelessly froggier than usual voice five songs to warm up and gain its full oomph and true raspiness.
Fashion statement: Santana wore all black, including a Boss long-sleeve T-shirt. Rod the Mod sported a screaming gold sportcoat and skinny black tie.
Footwear: Santana had patchwork cowboy boots in black and various earthtones. Stewart went for the two-tone shoes, first black-and-white, then silver-and-black.
Stage vibe: Santana’s stage was festooned with Aztec designs. Stewart’s all-white stage was covered with a shiny, white vinyl-like mat and he used lots of bold, primary colors, including royal blue, fringed miniskirts for the women in his band.
Supporting cast: Santana had a terrific, percussion-dominated band with two singers who sounded as anonymous as a singer at a hotel lounge. Stewart had a large, mostly younger band that, for a three-song acoustic set, expanded to feature 11 female musicians (give the MVP award to J’Anna Jacoby, who played fiddle, mandolin, guitar and percussion). After Santana’s forceful, clear sounding opening set, the sound mix for Stewart was often muddy, which is what you might expect from the opener, not the headliner.
Highlights: For Santana, it was the torrid “Jingo.” For Stewart, it had to be the Faces’ “Stay with Me” (with the singer’s campy twisting the night away moves) and the heartfelt acoustic numbers “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” and “Brighton Beach,” a new song for which he encouraged the crowd to act like they’ve heard it a million times like “Maggie May.” Truth be told, it was a sweetly romantic reflection on love in his teenage years.
Lowlights: Frankly, the vocals on “Smooth,” Santana’s biggest hit, were bland and anonymous.
Why does Stewart bother to do Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s a Heartache” which is him emulating a female Rod Stewart imitator? And he didn’t bother to try for the high notes on “Tonight’s the Night”; he merely let the crowd sing those lines.
Best flashbacks: When Santana gets cooking like his band was Sunday, you can’t argue with “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va.” And you gotta love Stewart in his full Faces glory on “Stay with Me.”
Best dance number: The surging Latin rhythms of “Foo Foo” had Santana’s crowd jumping.
For Stewart’s fans, it was, of course, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.” After all, it’s a disco classic and dozens of balloons dropped from the ceiling. Party on.
Oddity: Santana chewed gum nearly his entire set — but never to the rhythm of the song.
Stewart exited in the middle of “Forever Young” to completely change his outfit — including his shoes and socks.
Odd moments: For the beginning of his encore, Santana sat down on the kit for Stewart’s drummer at the back of the stage and hit one note with each hand to kick off the song. During his acoustic set, Stewart thought he was about to do “Have I Told You Lately” but he told the fans that “there’s an error with the Administration.” And then he put it in more blunt language that this newspaper won’t print. So he cheerfully did a different song, “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” instead.
Hat acts: Santana had a familiar black fedora. Stewart, of course, showcased his familiar blond rooster-do until the encore when he donned a straw cowboy hat folded many funky ways.