Sayre Berman

Last Night: Carlos Santana at Hard Rock Live

Carlos Santana and Derek Trucks

Hard Rock Live

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Better Than: Sitting home and watching the speeches of Rev. Jeremiah Wright loop constantly on every channel.

There are three sure things at a Santana show: 1) Carlos will display the highest level of improvisational virtuosity; 2) there will be at least three percussionists on stage; 3) Carlos will deliver at least one hippie ramble about spirituality, multiculturalism, and/or world peace. This last part is a bit awkward, but Carlos is genuine and his brilliant playing coheres in a way that his gentle preaching never quite does. The audience takes it all in stride.

After ripping through seven or eight high energy songs, Carlos finally took to the mic and greeted the audience: “Buenas noches. Shalom shalom...”

Then he dove right into talk sin and redemption. “It means a lot for us to present ourselves to an ocean of bodies and hearts that are open for the truth,” he said. “It’s important for us to remember that each of us were made in God’s image.”

He explained that humans sometimes lapse, but we’re fundamentally good: “Go with love and reestablish the perfect being that you know you are.”

We may be perfect beings, but he cautioned us seek spirituality, “not to be shuckin’ and jivin’, slippin’ and slidin’.”

If the nuns would have talked like this back in grade school, I would have paid better attention.

But Carlos had my full attention, thanks to his fluid, instantly recognizable sound. It’s amazing how he transitions seamlessly from lighting-quick runs or saturated slashing to soulful, sustained notes delivered at half volume. It doesn’t matter what style of music he plays—Carlos never paints himself in a corner. The core of his genius is a jazz master’s ability to create tension through fresh musical ideas and, most importantly, the ability to resolve that tension. A perfect example was when Carlos spent 60 seconds quoting Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” right in the middle of his “Black Magic Woman” solo. The band kept playing the essential form of “BMW” while Carlos superimposed the Hendrix melody on top. Then he switched back again to end “BMW”. Amazing.

Of course, much credit goes to the Santana band: they’re a sharp group of pros well seasoned to navigate through the eclectic set of classic rock numbers, open jams, funk rhythms, Latin sounds, and jazzier pieces.

For two and a half hours, the energy rolled through a mostly upbeat set of tunes, including: “No One to Depend On”, “Maria Maria”, “Smooth”, Marvin Gaye’s “Right On”, “Life is for Living” (from the early 90’s “Milagro” album), a more recent Latin number, “Corazon Espinado”, the aforementioned “Black Magic Woman” and Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va.”

Every song worked well on its own, but parts of the show could have benefited from better sequencing. For instance, they pulled out “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye” back to back. You’d guess that was the end of the show, right? Well, no. After that came a spacey, slower instrumental called “Shapeshifter,” a tune Carlos dedicated to native Americans since, he noted respectfully, we were on Seminole land. A couple tunes followed until the pace picked up again, but the audience vibe never quite recovered.

That said, it was a great show—a fantastic display of Santana’s live energy, virtuosity and eclectic range.

Personal Bias: They let the trombone player take an extended solo. I can’t think of another rock band playing a large venue that could make a trombone solo cool.

Random Detail: Carlos wore a long sleeve shirt and a winter hat. Didn’t he know he was in South Florida?

By the Way: Two of Santana’s early members, Gregg Rollie and Neil Schon, left the group and later became founding members of another San Francisco-based super group: Journey. Go figure, eh?

Click here to view our slide show of the concert.

-- Bill Frogameni

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