Concert Review: Carlos Santana Live — No Need for Golden Oldies

Conventional wisdom says that audiences will mutiny if you don’t give ‘em all the hits, but this crowd danced all the way through Carlos Santana’s eclectic setlist.

Carlos Santana --

Carlos Santana — His guitar style is impossible to miss: he can still dazzle with flamenco-like speed, but he also has a lyrical/spiritual side.

By Brett Milano

Carlos Santana’s got something that most classic-era rockers would kill for: An audience that comes to hear him play music, not bring back memories. Golden oldies were in short supply at the guitar master’s sold-out show at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion this week, which featured one of the more eclectic setlists to come from a veteran band in memory. During a two-and-a-half hour show, Santana and his ten-piece band did surprise covers, unrecorded songs, deep album tracks, and just a few hits (taken as much from 1999’s comeback smash Supernatural as from the old albums). The conventional wisdom says that audiences will mutiny if you don’t give ‘em all the hits, but this crowd danced all the way through.

The show opened with its only real nostalgic move, as the “Rain Chant” footage from the Woodstock movie segued into a live rendition of the 1969 nugget “Soul Sacrifice,” just as it did in the film. But that in turn segued into a song that the audience (mostly of the white Woodstock demographic) probably didn’t know: “Saideira,” a carnival groove by the Brazilian band Skank that was a Latin hit around 2000 (and never recorded by Santana). More covers came at set’s end, just when you expected the Santana oldies. Instead you got the posthumous Michael Jackson hit “A Place With No Name” and the Champs’ frathouse standard “Tequila,” updated with horn solos and Spanish lyrics. One thing Santana didn’t touch was the album he’s supposedly promoting. Last year’s Corazon is officially his first Latin album — meaning modern Latin pop, not the usual Latin rock — but though he played other tracks in that style, he left the LP alone.

Santana’s made some recent missteps on disc, getting too far into computerized modern production and becoming a guest on his own albums. But since it’s all played live onstage, the modern pop and hip-hop moves (including a three-song feature by his son Salvador, a singer and keyboardist) co-exist peacefully with the vintage tracks. Likewise, he carries his hippie-ish sensibility into everything he does: As the band played a bit of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” Santana namechecked the songs that he thought brought the world to a higher consciousness (that one plus “What’s Going On,” “One Love” and “Imagine”). So his rap-influenced songs all carried positive messages; “Freedom In Your Mind” and “Love Makes the World Go Round” (both new, unrecorded songs) were suitably uplifting. You don’t get the impression that he was first in line to see Straight Outta Compton.

If the songs and the faces onstage weren’t all familiar, the sound certainly was. This modern version of the Santana band (bassist Benny Rietveld, in since 1990, was the longest-serving member) had all the trademarks in place: A keyboardist who favored the gritty Hammond organ sound, and a three-piece percussion section that was in hyperspeed at all times (like clockwork, the timbales and congas always accelerated to punctuate the organ and guitar solos). As always, Santana’s guitar style is impossible to miss: he can still dazzle with flamenco-like speed, but the instrumental “Europa” (the only song drawn from his ‘70s jazz-fusion period) brought out his lyrical/spiritual side. In an amusing moment he let a fan upfront strum his guitar during a later solo, and kept motioning for the guy to play faster.

He hauled out the hits at the end, closing the set with “Smooth” (where Rob Thomas wasn’t missed; bandmembers Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay sang it fine) and encoring with the familiar “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen/Oye Como Va” medley (plus the lesser-known “Toussaint L’Ouverture,” a fiery jam from the third album in 1971). But this show was really about Santana’s vision of music as a unifying, global jukebox. And you could dance to all of it.

Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat.


  1. John Byrnes on August 21, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Heard Santana at the same venue two years ago and thought he was better then. At that concert he featured his band mates a lot more which made the concert more interesting. His bass player did a 20 minute solo. Fabulous musician. The band played for 3.5 hours in 94 degree heat. No complaints about the heat. Also, at Tuesday’s concert my friends and I all that it was a lot louder.
    Loud is OK but this sound mix was unnecessarily, painfully loud.

  2. CK1 on August 28, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    So, almost right Brett, but “Saideira” was recorded by Santana featuring Samuel Rosa on his current album, Corazon. And I have always loved hearing new stuff live from him, especially when it later ends up on an album and you instantly recognize it. And Carlos’ ability to interweave surprise songs and classic covers into the show is always a highlight. He loves Michael Jackson and you can hear multiple snippets of his songs throughout. And of course John Coltrane, John Lennon, etc. He also threw in some brief moments from his “Guitar Classics” album. A lot of people didn’t praise him for that album, but if you really listen to his guitar on those songs, it’s borderline spectacular, especially for a man turning 70 in 2017.

    I was at this show and yes indeed, stood and danced from song one to the very end. A majority of the crowd did the same which was a nice surprise, as a lot of them were older than me! The show rocked as Santana shows always do (I have attended somewhere around 50+ live Santana shows and counting). But the sound wasn’t perfect unfortunately; This happens from time to time and this was one of those times. I was in the 10th row center and the guitar was definitely not crystal clear. Yeah, when Carlos played alone like in Europa it was, but others times the band drowned him out. My understanding is that those further back had a much clearer sound. I should have gone up to the sound board and talked to the engineers about it, my brother did that once and they fixed the problem then and there, but ultimately the music and dancing wouldn’t let me leave my seat. 🙂

    A quick note to the previous commenter John: You are right about the Santana show two years back in Boston, I was also there, same venue. It was actually 100 degrees at the start and Carlos gave a brief speech at the beginning mentioning the heat and saying sometimes you just wanna get “a little crazy”… and then went on to play an absolutely ridiculous show for three hours. Unheard of in today’s concert world. Even the 2 1/2 hours this year is way longer than most play, one of the reasons I love going to see him year upon year. Anyway you slice it, I have never come away disappointed from a Santana show, and I can speak from experience.

    Viva Santana!

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