Seeing bands at venues like Rod Laver Arena is always a bit of an annoyance.  You can never get close enough to your hero, there are smelly kids dotted all over the place, and you always seem to be seated next to some filthy looking bogan with tomato sauce dripping down his front, as he reprehensibly takes a bite out of his meat pie.

When greats like Santana come to play these venues you have to make a choice though. Do you sit at home bitterly listening to Abraxas on repeat? Or do you bite the bullet and toddle off to the show and, let’s face it, look like a complete pretentious wanker as you stare around at your peers in disgust while the stage-hands do sound check.

When Anthony Callea’s evil twin strides onto stage looking like something Snooki coughed up after a particularly wild night out, and tries to engage the baby boomers in the audience with a bit of overstimulated fist pumping, you know you probably should have stayed at home. Only Carlos Santana himself could have saved the night.

At the beginning of the set, Carlos remained relatively inconspicuous. “Where’s Santana?” a boy down front whispered to his dad. But as ‘Lord’s Prayer’ heated up, Santana made himself more known, and all the fist pumping in the world couldn’t have taken the audience’s eyes off him as he ripped through his guitar solo with an ease that could only come from over half a century of practice.

The first highlight of the night was ‘Black Magic Woman’. As the keyboardist played that familiar riff from the beginning of the song, all the baby boomers in the audience were in fits. A few of them even got up out of the seats placed for them in the mosh and actually danced… kind of. This song also saw the two go-go dancers/Zumba enthusiasts directly next to the stage start dancing. They twisted and grinded almost like it has been rehearsed for the rest of the show, even after they had realised that the sixty and over year old men in the audience just weren’t getting that turned on by it.

It got harder and harder to pick out highlights as the night went on. The musicians were all certainly seasoned performers and there wasn’t a hiccup throughout the entire set. The only problem with it being so well-rehearsed and perfectly presented was that there were no moments that really rose above the others sound wise—it just sort of stayed at the same level of professionalism the whole way through. There was no fire behind the once passionate guitarist’s tunes anymore, although he did play them well… really, really well.

One moment that did stick out above and beyond the others, was when Santana’s new wife Cindy Blackman—most famous for playing alongside Lenny Kravitz—came and played her drum solo. For all the passion and sincerity the other supporting musicians lacked, this woman made up for it. Playing for what must have been something like ten minutes, she sweated it out without flinching once. This gave the other musicians ample time to have a bit of a rest before returning to continue on with the second half of the set.

The set mainly consisted of songs from the first couple of albums, which pleased the older people in the audience indeed. Australia’s answer to Cheech Marin seemed to be having a ball down the front as Santana played his killer guitar solo in ‘Evil Ways’, and all the baby boomers seemed to thoroughly enjoy his guitar-heavy rendition of Cream’s ‘Sunshine of your Love’.

After a long set, Santana didn’t return for an encore, and it was hard not to let a small sigh of relief slip out. While it’s true that Santana is a brilliant guitarist, and seeing him at Woodstock would have been a sure highlight of anyone’s life, his music just didn’t work all that well in that format that it was presented in. With the virtuoso backing musicians, the nightmarish singer from Jersey Shore, and the Zumba instructors dancing on the sidelines, all in all it was just a bit of a disappointment.

–       Ella Jackson