Still Standing

Santana, with Anthony Hamilton

At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Tuesday, August 1.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Santana2.jpgMany stars like to let their bands warm up the crowd before stepping into the spotlight, but that’s not Carlos Santana’s way. Within moments of the opening notes last Tuesday, Santana was front and center, blazing away at one of his most joyous and energetic early hits, “Jingo.” Clad in a red and black plaid flannel shirt, dark sunglasses, and a black knit cap, Santana pounced on the audience immediately and never let up. Behind him, a big screen kept even the people seated at the top of the Bowl in close communion with the band and Santana’s inimitable guitar, one of the world’s most recognizable instrumental voices.

Other than the video projection, the stage set was minimal. Band members did not wear stage clothes, and, thanks to radio pick-ups, the horn players did not have to stand behind microphones. Santana showed great humility and a detailed knowledge of the Santa Barbara Bowl with the first words out of his mouth: “We are deeply aware that this is sacred ground. We can feel the presence of those who have played here before — Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Ray [Vaughn].” Appropriately, though, he did most of his talking through “Santana II,” the gorgeous striped electric guitar made in his honor by master maker Paul Reed Smith. The set list encompassed hits old and new, including a tremendous version of the Anthony Hamilton collaboration “Twisted,” from Santana’s latest album. This neo-soul singer appears to be capable of time travel — at least as far as the 1970s. When he joined forces with Santana, Hamilton set a gritty gospel fire on top of the band’s relentless, percussion-heavy, Latin-tinged afro-funk. Santana said that Hamilton was “truly anointed,” and thus “the total opposite of George Bush, who can’t tell the power of love from the love of power.” This last remark brought a righteous roar from the capacity crowd.

Santana’s new material is as strong as the work on the phenomenally successful Supernatural, and should earn him an even larger and more devoted following than ever. On the eve of another Fiesta, Santana’s unique blend of pop, funk, and Latin rhythms made the Bowl into a perfect party, the sacred space we all wish that it was every night we go there.

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