Journey & Santana

August 28, 2016
The Forum
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Alex Kluft

I have to admit that when I attended the Santana and Journey concert at the Forum, I half expected Gregg Rolie, Michael Shrieve, Michael Carabello and Neal Schon to come strolling up in the middle of Santana’s set to play a few numbers from Santana IV, their 2016 reunion album. That didn’t pan out, although Schon did join Santana for a couple songs (more on that later). Either way, it was a winning combination — two of the Bay area’s finest, a regular San Francisco Fest, as it’s been called, especially when you throw the Doobie Brothers and Steve Miller into the mix (that happened a week later at the ATT Ballpark in San Francisco).

Santana reminded everyone of his rich history when he opened with “Soul Sacrifice,” accompanied by a montage of Santana's appearance at Woodstock on the video screen. That performance of this song, vividly captured in the Woodstock movie, put the band on the map. I guess this would have been the song that the classic lineup could have come and done, but it moved along nicely with Santana’s current lineup, a an 11-piece ensemble that includes two percussionists, two singers, horns, keys, guitars and Santana’s wife, Cindy Blackman, just killing it on drums.

It was a standard Santana set as the band cut through a mixture of originals and covers that included Deon Jackson’s “Love Makes The World Go 'Round” and “Europa,” plus head-spinning solos from both bassist Benny Rietveld and Cindy Blackman Santana. After a bit of the obligatory Coltrane ala “A Love Supreme,” Santana welcomed Neal Schon to the stage for “Batuka” and “No One To Depend On,” both from the Santana III album. The Journey guitarist who played with Santana when he was only 15 certainly helped in adding an edgy, rock-based drive to the Latin rhythms.

It was the Grammy-winning “Smooth,” Santana’s biggest hit, and the Chamber Brothers’ “Love, Peace and Happiness,” that finished up the nearly two-hour set. Comedian George Lopez joined in on maracas and comic relief. As a player, Carlos Santana hasn’t lost his touch and his expanded band allows him to fill out the sound and soar over a jumble of samba-like passages. Yeah, seeing the classic lineup would have been a treat, but there’s no denying the current Santana band is just as potent and magnetic as a live unit.

The mood shifted a bit for Journey, who came out swinging with “Separate Ways.” Singer Arnel Pineda, who’s comfortably slipped into the role as the band’s front man, was a little rough vocally at first, but as the night went on, his voice took hold and blended in more seamlessly. Schon, of course, delivered one stinging lead after another, culminating in a powerful rendition of “Star-Spangled Banner” that would have made Hendrix blush.

It was great to see Steve Smith back behind the skins after a 17-year absence. His effortless attack never strayed off course, and his solo in the middle of “Lo Do Da” clearly underscored his brilliance. OK, so Gregg Rolie didn’t come up for “Anytime,” but Jonathan Cain was jumping back and forth between and keys and guitar. And his piano solo into “Who’s Crying Now” and shout-out to the troops didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

Journey is not only celebrating the 40th anniversary together, but as bassist Ross Valory announced, it’s been 35 years since the release of Escape, the band’s most successful album. And with that, the band performed the album’s title track. By this time, Pineda was warmed up and working the front of the stage like a man on a mission.

Schon, who told the crowd at one point that the last time Journey played the Forum was in the 80s, earned himself another solo before the band came down the home stretch with “Wheel In The Sky,” firing away on all pistons, before settling into “Faithfully” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” to wind things down. An encore of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” sent scads of audience members (myself included) into the Forum parking lot, in search of a way — on a journey perhaps — to beat the traffic home.

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