Guitar solo, anyone? Riff-a-mania pitted two guitar gods back to back, and surprisingly, the one known for stylistic variances chose to rewind 20 years and wallow in aggressive rock ramblings. Carlos Santana, on the other hand, churned out an impressive array of solos that emphasized interplay over histrionics and, in the end, provided the more satisfying perf. This is Santana’s fourth summer tour in which the guitarist has paired his band with another quality relic — Steve Miller Band, Bob Dylan and Little Feat have been past tour mates — and as classic rock shows go, the ratio of ticket price to familiar music has been impressively high. And in this go-round, both acts are touring in support of retrospective packages: Santana’s three-CD set “Dance of the Rainbow Serpent” and Jeff Beck’s Epic “Best of.”
But the beauty of Santana’s set was its unfamiliarity: the lengthy solos that built off steady and rich percussion work; organist Chester Thompson’s two extended and multifaceted forays into tenebrous R&B; and a general reliance on Latin themes that avoided the often trite lyrics of Santana’s English work. Hits (“Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va”) were saved for encores.
Beck went for blaze from the get-go — one wham-bam solo after another with little room for the others who, beyond drummer Terry Bozio, seemed hardly interested in performing. Beck struck poses he originated umpteen years ago that have become guitar-god cliches, and they look no fresher on him than, say, Richie Sambora.
Sticking for the most part to recorded versions, Beck truly stretched on only one number, Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” and on that he eliminated its jazziness for the sake of note flurries. An added distraction was the placement of microphone front and center that gave the impression that a singer forgot to make the gig.
Most nights, Santana closes the show, and indeed much of Tuesday’s aud was there for the Oakland band. Beck wound up his 90-minute set playing to a good number of empty seats.