As concerts go, this one was something of an anomaly. It started only 15 minutes past the scheduled time.
In a system where rock legends arrive fashionably late, leaving their fans waiting the obligatory hour, Santana’s uncharacteristic punctuality nearly made me miss the opening. Having accounted for a late opening, I made it with milliseconds to spare, just in time to see Santana himself come out on stage and begin his first solo.
Santana is one of the greatest guitarists of our time, a six-string demi-god in a pantheon that includes Jimmy Page, Brian May and Ritchie Blackmore. While he’s hardly on his last legs, a chance to see him live in concert might not come by again. Thus it was that despite the exorbitant ticket prices, the Singapore indoor stadium was packed to the gills. The crowd was a tad more mellow and older than the black-tee clad, shout-themselves-hoarse types that throng heavy-metals concerts.
The band started up with a few plucky numbers from the old days. It took a good hour or so before they tired of playing instrumental ensembles and launched into a proper song, lyrics and all. Not that I was complaining; Santana’s sonorous blues and Afro-Cuban rhythms had an ethereal quality.
In the tradition of the great Bob Marley, the band churned out stirring, passionate rhapsodies that conveyed the essence of proud Latin America in all its hot-blooded mish-mash of poverty, romance, rage, revolution and hope.
The tempo sure picked up after their rendition of “Maria, Maria.” Crowd control authorities tried to get the few of us who’d left our seats to go by the railings to dance to return to our chairs, to little avail. Carlos Santana was thirty feet away, dressed in white, sporting a fedora and twanging away the dulcet notes of “Smooth.”
Nothing short of a Force 10 gale could have moved me, rooted to the ground as I was awe-struck by wonder and a feeling of profound gratitude to the fates. Then in a moment I’m not sure if I imagined, he steps over to the crowd and hands his plectrum to one of the women seated in the front row. She’s beside herself.
The highlight of the night for me was the stellar solo performance of Dennis Chambers, whose inspired drumming was a treat to listen to. This was followed by renditions of classic numbers like “Oye Como Va”, “Corazon Espinado” and “Black Magic Woman.” An Indian couple in front of me was doing the salsa to the sultry Spanish numbers.
While the final songs were performed, pictures of Santana’s musical history flashed on the big screen, both tribute and possible swan song to a legendary career. The three-hour concert ended with Santana’s latest hit single “Into the Night.”
Santana, despite his age, is still going strong. What with The Rolling Stones still rocking stages with one foot in the grave, I shouldn’t be surprised.
In the words that Kurt Cobain immortalized in his suicide note, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Keep burning, Santana.