As pounding Latin rhythms reverberated through the Bowl on Monday night, Carlos Santana’s band bounded into action. With his two dueling lead vocalists at the foot of the stage summoning the audience to their feet, one could be forgiven for thinking that a deity was about to descend upon the outdoor amphitheater. And it wasn’t too far from the truth either. Looking equal parts cool and dapper in his lily-white garb, Santana eased himself onto the stage, threw forth an wealth of notes on guitar, then joined in the rhythmic frenzy on tambourine. As keyboards swirled and the brass section bellowed, Santana was soon wailing away on his trademark custom Paul Reed Smith and there wasn’t any questioning that we were in the presence of a rock ‘n’ roll divinity.
While the evening included more of the sprawling instrumental Santana material then it did the radio-friendly hits, several of the latter did make an appearance. “Maria Maria” and “Smooth” (both from Supernatural brought the capacity audience to their feet, as did his sprawling renditions of classics “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va.” But just as Alicia Keys’s lyrical empowerment had the female members of her audience pointing to the sky in unity a few nights prior, it was Santana’s blistering guitar work that had the Bowl’s male constituency raising their beer cups in salute. It was just a little ironic that it was his guitar wielding that inspired such worship, rather than the messages of spiritual affirmation that abounded within the night’s compositions.
For a performance that was markedly orchestral in nature - and yielded very little in the way of between-song communications - Santana was nothing if not sublime in drawing the audience into his instrumental charm. His guitar screamed, cried, mocked, and wailed, and in so doing spoke greatly about the man himself. This was further enhanced by his immaculate sense of stagecraft, fittingly burying himself within the ensemble during the lush orchestral grooves, then standing astride the foot of the stage when his guitar led the way. Recent reports reputedly claim that Santana is about to switch careers from music to religion. And on the strength of Monday’s performance and the sonic sermon it offered, he seems to already be well on his way.