Photo Credit: Alex Kluft
As Ravel’s “Bolero” built to a final crescendo, its orchestral majesty was met by the now-iconic looping percussion from Santana’s 1969 appearance at Woodstock; a performance- particularly, the incendiary “Soul Sacrifice”- that launched over 50 years of musical greatness. Out of the shadows of a montage of video clips emerged the real deal: Santana greeting 20,000 at L.A.’s Banc of California with a “Soul Sacrifice” for the 21st century, as thundering an offering to the heavens as ever.
It was the first in a string of certified vintage from Carlos Santana and his ensemble, dialing the watch all the way back with “Jin-go-lo ba,” on to “Evil Ways,” then to the Santana-branded trinity of “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen/Oye Como Va.” Following a crisp and impassioned “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile),” the band shifted again to pay tribute.
On a night already humming from terrific opening sets by War and Earth, Wind & Fire, Santana further honored the grooves of yesteryear, linking its adopted rendition of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” with The Temptations’ forever slinky “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” This was no night of nostalgia, though, unless it’s been long enough to count the group’s latter-day mega-successes of Supernatural and Shaman, from 1999 and 2002, respectively, as nostalgia. From that pair of multi-platinum chartbusters came a handful of hip-swaying moments; “The Game of Love,” “Maria, Maria,” and “Corazon Espinado” tops among them.
As for his legendary guitar-playing, Carlos remains a vital and inventive master. Maybe it’s the ongoing Vegas residency the band and he maintain, keeping them blade-sharp. Maybe it’s akin to the tour’s title: Miraculous Supernatural. Whatever the source, Santana has tapped in and stayed in.
His tone is monstrous; as gripping and assured as it is supple, drawing out spells of notes with calming patience or fiery fury. He bounces with his band, often turning to longtime bassist Benny Rietveld or spouse and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana with his facial and fretboard exclamations. The band, too, is a thoroughbred running hot from gate to finish, holding the near-capacity soccer stadium crowd standing and dancing for the two-hour duration.
The encore plays almost as a second set, cellphones aloft for a sparkling “Put Your Lights On,” and Blackman Santana’s spotlight moment of drum sorcery, plus a history lesson from Carlos before a lovely “Toussaint L’Ouverture.” Then, it’s the naturally concluding hit, “Smooth,” and a grinding, borderland take of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” Carlos has a final word; wishing everyone a great summer before the uplift of The Chambers’ Brothers’ “Love, Peace and Happiness” gives its last musical good-bye.
On this Saturday evening in June, Carlos Santana, his ensemble, and his touring mates- War; Earth, Wind & Fire- as they have for over five decades, gave Los Angeles six joyous hours of their own soul sacrifice. Positive, celebratory, and restorative. An exuberant night of music in the City of Angels.