“Tell me about this Santana,” comanded my cab driver as he transorted me to Rexall Place.
A stoic gentleman with a preference for classical music, he was less interested in which band was playing Rexall as in what time the concert would be letting out and whether he’d be able to pick up a few fares on a dead Tuesday night. Still, he perked up when I mentioned that Carlos Santana was considered a guitar god in many quarters, and that his fusing of Latin rhythms and rock music was deemed revolutionary in its time.
“Black Magic Woman,” he said, nodding his head, and I knew then that we’d made a connection. “Hippies.”
Ah, but those hippies are older now, they have money, and they’re loyal to their heroes; over 6,000 fans made it out to see the guitarist and his extended band work their way through more than four decades of hits. There were a few surprises: who would’ve thought he’d start off by letting his band blare free like an unholy communion of Tito Puente jamming with Sun Ra? Or drop immediately thereafter into a hip-hop version of AC/DC’s Back in Black? It was like he decided to let us know, in two songs, how awesome and then how incredibly awful he could be. Let it be known that Santana can happily dip into vats of cheese when left to his devices.
This is the man who made Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 unavoidable for a solid two years, after all; he’s got some undeniable groaners in the back catalogue. Otherwise he stuck to the nostalgia script, whipping out endless solos that only guitar nerds can probably properly appreciate, leading his 11-piece outfit through hits Oye Como Va, Black Magic Woman, Maria Maria, the audience swaying along in appreciation. And there were congas; congas that made you flash back to drum circles just off Whyte Avenue, or nights spent tormented at North Country Fair.
Practically everyone onstage had a piece of percussion in his hand at one point or another, apropos for a band that’s at least as much salsa as they are rock. Aside from the endless guitar wank, that’s what Santana is – a fine, monstrously grooving dance band that could easily function without the singers and who probably should throw the horns some more work. World-class musicians as well, all given a chance to show off by the boss throughout the evening, working terrain between slapping funk and unexpected ghosts of Weather Report under the guitarist’s instrumental outings. Read more…