Carlos Santana still stunning the masses

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ORIGINALLY POSTED AT STRAIGHT.COM, SEPT. 8, 2008

The last time Carlos Santana played here, a few years back at GM Place, one reader used my rave review of the show as an excuse to slag the guitarist for selling out with his multiplatinum album of 1999, Supernatural. This Payback Timer didn’t like the fact that the Mexican-born, San Francisco–based guitar hero had enlisted some hotshot songwriters and recruited a gaggle of big-name guest artists in order to score mainstream success (and win nine Grammys).

But if not for the turn-of-the-century boost to his career that Supernatural delivered, Santana might not be in the position to show off his still-stunning talent to the masses, and—judging by his awesome performance at GM Place last night (September 7)—that would be an unholy shame.

The set began with video images of babies, doves, and planet Earth before the cameras focused on the sizable bulk of drummer Dennis Chambers as he hammered out the opening of “Jingo”, the feverish, African-tinged workout from Santana’s self-titled debut album of 1969.

At that point, a 10-piece band—including more percussionists than you could shake a maraca at—paraded onto the stage, and the man himself anointed the crowd with the piercingly pure tone of his signature orangey-red Paul Reed Smith guitar. As Santana would prove throughout a nearly two-and-a-half-hour show, his playing has only gotten fiercer with age. That’s incredible when you consider he was already shit-hot 40 years ago.

“We are eternally grateful for you sharing your presence with us,” pronounced the 61-year-old rocker, before encouraging pockets of the crowd to stand up and sway to the sultry vibe of the Supernatural hit “Maria Maria”. The only other song culled from that blockbuster was the obligatory “Smooth”, as Santana was more inclined towards fiery Latin jams, into which he would playfully inject tiny traces of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”.

The Spanish-language material showcased the soulful keyboard work of long-time Santana member Chester Thompson and the buoyant bottom end of former Miles Davis bassist Benny Rietveld. Lead vocalists Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas did a commendable job of working the crowd, while percussionists Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow kept pace with drumming dynamo Chambers on congas and timbales. Since Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass weren’t around, trumpeter Bill Ortiz and trombonist Jeff Cressman provided a bracing horn section.

Supernatural may be the album that broke Santana wide open on a commercial level, but 1970’s Abraxas is the one favoured by old-school followers, whom he rewarded with that disc’s “Oye Como Va” and his deathless rendition of Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman”.

On pretty well every tune—from “Jingo” right on through to the Woodstock-era encore, “Soul Sacrifice”—Santana ripped it up big time on guitar. The only thing more astonishing than his inspired fretwork was the abundance of empty seats at GM Place. Come on, people! You consistently pack the place for a second-rate hockey team, yet can’t do it once for a first-rate guitar legend?

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