I first saw Santana in 1974. They played at a huge outdoor stadium in upstate New York. It was the middle of summer and it was a blistering hot day. So I, along with 80,000 other fans, revelled in Carlos Santana’s exquisite guitar licks as they floated through the muggy air and over the simmering crowd. At the time, the band’s most recent studio album was Caravanserai, full of soaring guitar solos and perculating rhythms. It didn’t contain any hit singles but its free-flowing jazz-inspired vibe was perfect for a hot summer day.
More than 35 years later Santana is a very different band. Personnel-wise, Carlos is the only musician left from the line-up I saw back in ’74. This time around the band is promoting its Guitar Heaven album, a rather inessential collection of classic rock tunes like Smoke On The Water and Sunshine Of Your Love. Carlos must have read the reviews as he only performed two selections from the album, AC/DC’s Back In Black (with a cringe-inducing hip-hop vocal) and Sunshine Of Your Love, which sounded OK coming after a version of A Love Supreme.
Santana took the stage just before 8pm and didn’t leave until 10:30. Over the course of the two and a half hours they played old favourites (Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman), newer hits (Smooth, Maria Maria) and jammed extensively on tunes like Jingo and Soul Sacrifice. In addition to the nine-piece band (including two horn players and three percussionists) we were introduced to Cindy Blackman, Carlos’ new wife and an impressive drummer in her own rite.
Having played so many of these songs for so many years, the important thing for me was whether Santana sounded like he still was moved by his own music. Judging by his playing and the joyful interaction that seemed to be taking place between the musicians on stage, he, and they, are still have the time of their lives bringing this mix of Latin, rock, jazz and soul to their fans.
Carlos took a few opportunities to speak during the evening…once to congratulate New Zealand on its apparent pristine condition and the other to ruminate of God, light and love. Remember, Santana made their first mark at Woodstock and it seems there’s still plenty of hippie left in the old guitarist.
It was an impressive, at times moving, evening of heartfelt music. I could have done with perhaps one less drum solo, but it’s a minor quibble. After all, at age 63 and with a new, young wife, Carlos probably needed a few breaks during the evening.
– Marty Duda
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