May 20, 2008
Review and Photos by Edward Paik
Better Than: Raw oysters.
Download: Podcasts from Santana.com
Carlos Santana has aged. His face wrinkled, shoulders hunched to his sides by the weight of his polished guitar. His list of dedications, of shout outs and distant memories as numerous as the people he’s encountered over his years.
But Santana has time. Halfway through his 25 song set-list and two encores, the lifelong musician stops to enjoy the moment, stops mid-song and lifts his arms as if to soak the ambience from the lights above and smiles.
He’s been here before. He can still point out the exact location on The Fillmore’s floor where he once sneaked in and stood four decades ago. Yet, at the age of 60, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer ranked 15 on Rolling Stone's list of the top 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time stood at the other end last night to perform one of two sold out back-to-back concerts at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium.
As part of his “Live the Light” World Tour, the concert featured tracks from the upcoming “Multi-Dimensional Warrior,” a compilation of Santana’s career to be released on August 5.
“He can still play that guitar,” said Steve Cuevas, a 43-year-old gang prevention counselor at Ponoma Unified School District. “His age hasn’t affected his guitar.”
And Cuevas should know. The Fillmore is a change from when he stood on the lower yard of the San Quentin State Prison in 1988 to watch the guitarist once before.
“I don’t see no arthritis kicking in,” he laughed.
Regardless of age or of stadium status, Santana appeared before the packed crowd at the small historic venue on an overhead screen to start his performance. Larger than life, the icon flashed two fingers in the symbol of peace, then burst the maracas.
The opening act was later followed by No One To Depend On, with nearly every musician on stage adding their own vocals to the chorus. Santana even stood before his mic and wrapped his fingers midair as to pull in voices from the crowd.
Clapping to the rhythm, the Latin beat of percussion, drums and guitar never ceased till a pause allowed Santana to speak.
“You can just scape from the walls the sounds of Jimi Hendrix...” Santana said, listing other bands and musicians who now remain as fixtures on frames at The Fillmore’s entrance.
Yet, he stopped again to point stage right in one many dedications that night to Bill Graham, the rock concert promoter who gave Santana the opportunity to play on stage and brought fame to The Fillmore in the mid-60s with names like The Who and Pink Floyd.
“They all taught me if you're going to do this you have to do it right,” Santana said.
Still a self-proclaimed hippie, the band followed the dedication in a different direction, aiming at a political tone against George Bush. The result, a spiritual focus on the counterculture Santana grew up with.
“The brain is nothing but conflict,” he added. “You can communicate straight to the heart.”
Corazon intact, for every note thereafter Santana held a different expression, pushing and pulling away on the wrinkles that have accumulated over the decades. But his guitar seemed archaic, screeching like a female singer from the distant 50s during the solos that pushed the limits of his amps.
Shape Shifter began with chants from the band and keyboardist Chester Thompson playing the sounds from birds of prey as the song portrayed, “the shift from an ego to an animal,” according to Santana. The song was one of many that focused on the spiritual aspect of life, of love and of peace.
No instrument was left out from his arsenal, as he picked up a cowbell, maracas, vocals and other percussion instruments all while playing his guitar in the fading fog, replenished later by the smoke machine and the exhale of marijuana from the crowd.
Fists began to pump to the crowd’s roar to the three familiar chords of Black Magic Woman that had Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas taking turns on vocals. The song led to Oye Como Va, where Santana wrapped his arm around Lindsay at the mic for a chance to sing for himself.
The finale began like the concert started, like a last of breathe of life. Trumpets, percussion, beats and the guitar forming a harmony on stage to “Into The Night.” The curly hair falling from the back of Santana’s leather cap bounced as he shaked his head, arms reached and flailed in pray, all to prove that he had got the best of his age even after four decades, and after three hours of performance.
“It made me feel young again,” said Thomas Xavier, who attended the show. “Mostly because I am 34 and most of the people there were older I was.”
Before the lights went out Santana smiled, and pressed those two fingers into the air just above his mic.
“Peace,” he said.
Personal Bias: This reporter can scratch what sounds like Santana’s Europa on his acoustic guitar.
Random Detail: This reporter had a bottle Guinness Stout dropped on his shirt by accident, from a server making rounds from the overcrowded bar.
By the Way: Catch Santana’s final concert of the “Live Your Light” Tour today at The Fillmore Auditorium. Santana and his band will continue touring in Europe after his performance.