Santana's set included a nice mix of songs from all stages of the band's and Carlos's career, including numbers from their 1969 debut to their recent hit CD's Supernatural and Shaman and plenty of songs from points in-between. The wild, Sonny Sharrock-esque slide guitar work on "Put Your Lights On" was an early highlight, as was the deft Spanish guitar "Concerto" introduction to "Maria Maria." These two recent numbers may have been commercial smashes, but the artistry displayed contradicted any notion of compromise. The group showed its mastery of Latin rhythms and had the crowd dancing from the beginning with such numbers as "Aye Aye Aye" and "Roule."
But moments of celebration were balanced by ones of contemplation. Surely one of the most powerful points in the performance came when Carlos dedicated a moment of silence (only slightly marred by a few inebriated members of the audience) to the children that died that day in Iraq before launching into the band's terrific arrangement of Gato Barbieri's "Europa." Carlos played beautiful, as did Chester Thompson. "Savor" featured both prominently as well before giving way to a showcase for ace percussionists Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow.
A hilarious surprise came mid-show when Carlos welcomed the comedian George Lopez on stage for a couple minutes of topical comedy. I really got the feeling that these guys don't much care for George Bush and, judging by the enthusiastic reception Lopez received, that their disdain was shared by most of the crowd. Little wonder the GOP isn't campaigning too heavily in L.A. County.
When Carlos founded the band in the mid-sixties, he called it the Santana Blues Band; the 12 bar jam that segued into their classic arrangement of Peter Green's "Black Magic Woman" demonstrated succinctly that the blues was dropped from the band's name only. As on the record, "Black Magic Woman" gave way to Gabor Szabo's "Gypsy Queen," but not before a tasty extended quote of Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun." This little tidbit set up the set's closing number up nicely, a rousing version of Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" that turned into a delightful game of "Name That Tune." I caught bits of songs by Joe Cuba, Yes, Dee-Lite with Bootsy Collins, Prince and even Iron Butterfly and I'm sure I missed a couple more. The groups encore featured their first big hit "Evil Ways," Carlos dueting on vocals with singer Andy Vargas and substituting the name "George" where the word "Baby" usually goes--presumably a reference to Mr. Bush and not Mr. Lopez. Closing out the night was a gorgeous version of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," interpolating his "Impressions" and featuring keyboards from Thompson that sounded as if they could've come from McCoy Tyner himself.
Plenty of artists have achieved what is called "crossover success," appealing to fans of different musical styles and/or racial backgrounds, but the continued success of the Santana band over the last five decades is not based on merely crossing these arbitrary barriers so much as transcending and rendering them moot. Santana isn't a Latin band that plays rock, or a rock band that plays jazz or what have you, Santana is a musical force that takes nourishment from all over the spectrum and creates its own unique hybrid. The next time you hear somebody crabbing some nonsense about jazz not being relevant to a mass audience or the like, you might want to direct them to a Santana concert so they can see thousands of people chanting "A Love Supreme" for themselves. Though their records may be filed under rock, Santana is a band of seasoned improvisers with few boundaries of any kind.