Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Doobie Brothers, Santana

So as it turns out, this time I might have been the least grumpy guy in the stadium! Sit down, let me tell you all about it.

I bought these tickets awhile back because for some reason, out of all the shows at the Jones Beach Theater this summer, this was the one that most interested me. (I considered a couple of others, including Bush/Live and Smashing Pumpkins/Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, but this was always my first choice.)

I won't necessarily say Santana is one of my top favorite bands. After all, in a way, Santana has been many different bands over many different time periods. But they were one of my earliest loves, and from time to time, although I never saw them live (until now), I would drift back towards them when they were making the right kind of music.

I've written before about the development of my love of music, and how the late '60s helped to shape my tastes for years to come. I've also written about how important FM radio was in the '70s. But I don't know if I've stressed how important AM radio was in the late '60s.

My first radio station was WABC in New York, the home of DJs such as Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Harry Harrison, and "Cousin Brucie" (Bruce Morrow). And in the years surrounding Woodstock, yes, they still played a lot of crap. However, they also started playing a lot of great stuff. Along with pop fluff artists like B.J. Thomas and R.B. Grieves, some of the older British Invasion bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and Motown artists such as Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, we started getting songs from future FM stars like "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin, and "We're Not Gonna Take It" by The Who. And mixed in with all of this were several of Santana's earliest hits, including "Evil Ways", "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va". "Black Magic Woman" was particularly potent -- dark and cool, it put a psychedelic Latin beat twist on a song that was actually written by blues rock artist Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac.

I owned both Santana's eponymous album (which contained the studio version of one of the highlights of the Woodstock festival, "Soul Sacrifice") and Abraxis (which featured both "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va"), and I loved them both (and still do). Then Santana started moving more into the genre of jazz fusion, and I wandered off into different musical pastures. I came back in 1994 (as did the rest of the world) when they released the first-rate Supernatural album, and I remember talking about how great it was that an artist like Santana could hang on and just keep doing their thing until musical tastes changed and they became "cool" again. I didn't really think much about them again 2016, when they released Santana IV, which might not have been at the same level as either first two albums or Supernatural, but was still pretty damned good.

This January, I picked up a copy of a new Santana EP, In Search of Mona Lisa, and (SPOILER:) there's a very good chance that the first song on that effort, "Do You Remember Me", is going to make my Top 20 Songs of 2019 list. I was a little disappointed in their newest full-length album, Africa Speaks, but it has a couple of decent songs on it, and frankly, by the time it came out, I already knew I was going to Jones Beach to see them. The fact that The Doobie Brothers, a band that I like more than love, was going to be their opening act, was just a sweetener for me.

After The Alarm show with Denise on Friday night, I basically took a day of rest on Saturday. (Well, not really -- I was home working most of the day. But I wasn't running around doing stuff, so at least my body was resting.)

I got up pretty late on Sunday. (I had actually been up a good part of Saturday night doing my Alarm write up.) I spent the afternoon doing a few light work items, and keeping a wary eye on the weather -- there was a 20% chance of rain, or so they told me. I left the house at 5PM, but by the time I got some gas, bought myself a sandwich and hit the ATM, it was close to 5:30 by the time I really got underway.

The skies looked kind of threatening as I drove toward Wantagh. I decided to take Ocean Parkway, since that's the fastest route, even though it contains another of my Achilles Heals -- bridges!

I've written on the blog before about my fear of heights, but I've never talked about my fear of bridges. Some of it is about the height. But for whatever reason, I also always have these nightmares about bridges. Usually, I'm driving on them, but as I get more than halfway across, I find that the water level has risen until I'm driving through water, trying to desperately make it to the other side before my car is immersed. I'm sure Sigmund Freud would have a party with these dreams. Well eff you, cigar boy!

(As you can imagine, my kids love torturing me about this. Whenever we're driving over a bridge, they love to say stuff like, "Uh oh, it feels like it's shaking," and "Oh no, the bridge is collapsing." I'll admit I play the fear up a little more than I actually feel it. I like to see my kinds enjoy themselves.)

I especially don't like the Robert Moses bridge. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, I had a flat on this bridge during evening rush hour about 20 years ago, when it was only one lane due to bridge work, and I had to limp my way all the way across to the other side to avoid causing a three-hour traffic tie-up. But the other reason is that this bridge is really two bridges, one going each way. And the side going towards Jones Beach in only two lanes wide, meaning there is no middle lane to drive in -- whichever way you choose, you're way to close to the side (and that long drop to the water) for my comfort.

When I do take this route, I'm usually gripping the steering wheel much more tightly than I probably should. even on a good day. And Sunday, as I made my way towards Santanaville, I found out that it was quite windy out -- I had to really fight the steering wheel to keep from flying all over the bridge.

In any event, I made it, and starting heading down Ocean Parkway towards Jones Beach. Because Denise doesn't have much interest in most '70s bands, my companion for this show was my good friend Rich Da Drumma, aka the drummer from my wife's old band The Slant. Rich had texted me that he was already in the parking lot of the stadium just as I was leaving Patchogue. I promised to let him know when I reached the parking lot as well.

I wasn't actually expecting a huge crowd for this show. However, as I got closer to the beach (at maybe 6:10 or so) I received an unwanted surprise. The crowd was already so large that they claimed that Field 5 was full, and all traffic was being diverted to Field 4.

Now how far and how long I can walk vary greatly from day to day. I have back issues and leg issues, so if I'm having a bad day, I can only walk so far. (And if it's the winter, and there's any ice or snow on the ground, I can't walk far at all -- if I go down on the ice, even if I don't injure myself, it's going to take a crane to get me back up again.) Luckily, I was feeling pretty good on this day, so it was more of an annoyance than an issue to panic over.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I did show my handicapped sticker, but as I feared, I was told that all of the handicapped parking was taken. OK then. So I parked in a spot that was roughly equidistant between my house and the stadium.

Rich wanted me to meet him by the front gate, so I started walking over. It wouldn't have been too bad, except that a lot of it was uphill, so it was a bit of a struggle. As I (and a bunch of other people) trudged over the overpass, I could see that they'd lied to me -- Field 5 really wasn't full. Yes, it was largely full. But there were quite a few spots in the outer part of the parking lot. It still would have been a goodly walk, but at least I wouldn't have had to go up the hill to go over the overpass. Grrr!

I waited by the gate for a few minutes, but I didn't see Rich. Unfortunately, the long drive and the trek from Field 4 were taking their toll, and I had to pee something fierce. Finally, I texted Rich and told him I'd meet him at the seat. I then went through the process of waiting on line to slowly work my way through the metal detector.

Once inside, I walked past some stadium employees who were hawking some $25 ticket deals for some of the upcoming shows. The one band I heard mentioned was ZZ Top. (So if you're a fan of theirs, you might want to check around to see if you can get in on this.)

When I was finished with the Men's Room, I got another nasty surprise. The line for the elevator was huge. I contemplated trying to walk up the stairs. But my seats were on the top level, and especially after the long walk from the parking lot, I knew I'd get part way up and realize I had made a mistake. So I waited. And waited. And watched as several times, they made all the handicapped and elderly people wait while a couple of employees used one of the elevators to transport metal carts full of bags of ice. I hate Jones Beach.

Finally, I got up to top level, and found my way to my seat. I was in a handicapped section on the left side of the stadium, right were I was last year for the Tesla/Styx/Joan Jett show. Just as the usher was setting up one of those cushioned folding chairs for me, Rich showed up, and was seated next to me. At this point, it was about 6:50, about ten minutes until showtime.

Now a couple of words about the weather. I had grabbed an umbrella before I left the house, and because I couldn't find a rain poncho, I'd also grabbed a jacket with a hood. I figured I'd be hot, but at least I'd have some protection if it rained.

As it turned out, it was a good thing I'd taken the jacket, and not because of rain. As I'd learned back on the Robert Moses Bridge, it was quite windy, and actually a little bit cold. In fact, it was windy enough that at the beginning of the night, because the tide was high, they had to have guys with long brooms over on the left side of the stadium on the ground level to sweep the water away from the seated area.

Rich was a bit surprised at how high up we were. The last time he had been at this stadium, the whole upper tier hadn't been there. (We also talked a little about how the area directly in front of the stage actually used to be a moat.) He wasn't even sure if he'd last been there for a concert, or if it was when the stadium was still featuring Broadway-style musicals. I pointed out how the height of the stadium meant "Nearer my God to thee," but Rich seemed oddly uncomforted by this remark.

A moment later, the crowd stirred, and a whole bunch of two-inch-tall looking Doobie Brothers took the stage. There seemed to be about seven of them, and I made a comment to Rich about hiring a matchmaker to find Seven Brides for Seven Doobie Brothers. This earned me a gentle shot in the ribs from him. (And I do mean earned). They opened up with a pair of their hits, "Rockin' Down the Highway" and "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)". As they continued playing, I re-counted and found their were actually eight of them. (But of course, this didn't stop me from blogging my painful joke.)

Rich looked very happy, and commented on how the Doobie Brothers were in his soul (along with ELO, whom he'd just seen live in Jersey a few weeks ago.) For my part, I felt a little distracted. This could have been because the Doobies went into three or four songs in a row that I wasn't familiar with. But I think I was just winded from the walk over, and a little disoriented watching the storm clouds on my right side and watching the stadium fill up. I did mention to Rich, though, that I thought the sound was pretty good. (Last year, the sound for Tesla and Joan Jett had been fine, but the sound for Styx had been terrible.) I was also in a pleasant, if spacey, state of mind, just looking up at the sky and out at the water, thinking about how great it was to listen to live music under the open sky. I love Jones Beach.

I got more into The Doobie Brothers as their set wore on, and especially enjoyed their encore, which consisted of "Old Black Water" and "Listen to the Music." By this time, it was starting to get dark (so you could actually see the band on the big screens on either side of the stage), and the stadium was pretty full. The Doobies played a full 13-song set, in all.

The wait wasn't too bad between bands. In the handicap section in this stadium, they kind of brick you in. By which I mean after they fill the first row of seats, they set up a second row behind you, so that you can't get out without making somebody behind you move. So I decided that I didn't need to use the rest room. (Which was probably just as well, as I heard from some of the people in my row that it was a zoo during the intermission. I managed to step out briefly about midway through Santana's set when they were playing a song I didn't know, and the people behind me had temporarily vacated, and there was still a line.)

Santana came out with an even larger band than The Doobie Brothers. (They had an intro film that featured various scenes from Woodstock.) They opened up with two of their best, "Soul Sacrifice" and "Jin-go-lo-ba", and I was immediately into it. The two main things I love about them are their percussion (and tonight, they had three percussionists), and Carlos Santana's ridiculously tasteful guitar.

Just a word about Carlos Santana -- The Doobies may have appeared to be two inches from our seats on Mount Olympus, but somehow Carlos Santana is always 10 feet tall. He's got that iconic look, with the brimmed hat. And although my first love is usually keyboards and synths, Santana is one of those guitarists whose style is distinctive and elegant enough to draw my attention every time. (I feel this way about David Gilmour, too.) He's also one of the few guys who can write and play songs about himself, and somehow it's cool and not douchey.

By this time, it looked like the storm clouds were blowing away (and that's how it worked out. We never really did get hit by the rain.)

Now there some negatives to their set, two in particular. The first were the lights. This was one of those shows where for large portions of the night, bright, white lights were shined directly into the crowd. They were really mainly in two sections, one on one side of the stadium and one on the other. But unfortunately, ours was one of them. Before I could even comment or react, I heard Rich mutter irritably, "What are they trying to hide?" And I couldn't argue with him. On the stage, Carlos was killing it with a guitar solo, but we couldn't see anything but a glimpse of him. And it wasn't just us. Most of the people in our section had their hands up in front of their eyes, trying to block out the glare. (At one point, I turned to the woman sitting next me who was sitting with her hands in front of her eyes, and told her, "You know, when they shine the light on you like that, you're supposed to take a solo." See laughed and agreed, before passing it along to her husband.) And they had these lights on us for parts of almost every song. Bad light man! Bad!

The other negative was the vocalists. Unlike most bands, Santana is mostly about Santana, and the vocalists are of secondary importance. I didn't really love the vocals on Africa Speaks, and I found the vocalists in the live band on Sunday night to too often be strident.

The band was also loud, much louder than the Doobies had been. This didn't bother me as much as it bothered Rich.

In spite of these shortcomings, I enjoyed the show a lot. It might have been a little overlong -- overall, between the two bands, they played for a full four hours -- but they did most of the songs I could have asked for, including "Black Magic Woman," "Evil Ways", four songs from Supernatural (including my favorite, "Maria, Maria", and even my favorite track from the new LP, "Breaking Down the Door". Because it was the last night of their tour together, Santana also had The Doobies come out and join them for a cover of "Some Kind of Wonderful".

The show was also something of a family affair, as at one point, Carlos' son Salvador was given a long keyboard solo, and his wife Cindy was given a long drum solo. Both certainly held their own.

At the end of the night, there was more Woodstock imagery projected onto the screens, and the band closed the show with a cover of The Youngbloods' "Get Together".

Rich and I took the stairs leaving the stadium (as I'm pretty sure I'd have still been there for Thursday night's Bush/Live concert if I'd have waited for the elevators.) I hacked my way into the Men's Room on the main level (which was all congested because there's only one door for the people entering and the people exiting to both try to squeeze their way through -- nice design, guys.) I then began the long, torturous walk back to Field 4 to find my car.

Earlier in the night, when we were making plans to meet up later, Rich asked me what road I usually take when I leave the stadium. I told him truthfully, I never have any idea. I just go out whichever way opens up -- sometimes it's closer to Ocean Parkway, sometimes to the Wantagh Parkway, and sometimes to the Meadowbrook. It took twenty minutes or so to get out of the parking lot, and this time I found myself on the Meadowbrook.

I met up with Rich at a diner on Sunrise Highway in Wantagh, where we ate dinner and compared notes. As I had suspected, Rich had enjoyed The Doobie Brothers more than Santana. He was already under the weather when he got to the stadium, and the combination of the cold, the bright lights and the loud volume for Santana's set had been too much of an assault to his senses, to the point where he actually felt shaky going down the stairs. (I hadn't noticed because I'd been involved with trying not to fall down the stairs and kill myself.) He loved The Doobies, though.

Rich also emailed me today to tell me 1) our friends George and Cathy had been there, and had texted him that they had been freezing, and 2) that a co-worker's parents had been there, had also been blinded by the lights, and had had to park so far away that they had missed almost the whole Doobie Brothers set. So for once, compared to much of the crowd, it seems I was Mr. Happy. (I will point out, though, that during the whole evening, unlike Thursday's Roger Silverberg show, not one person in the whole stadium handed me a zeppola. What have you got to say for yourself, Carlos?)

For me, I'd always rather be a little cold than a little hot (although I was really glad I had thought to bring my jacket). And I love Santana, and in spite of the harsh vocals, I really enjoyed seeing them live. The Doobies were nice, but Santana was king. In any event, whichever band you like more, between the two of them, it looked as though they must have sold every single seat in that stadium. Pretty impressive, guys.

So that wrapped up my weekend trifecta of music.