ROD LAVER ARENA
Seeing a legend like this is a strange experience, one almost crushed under safe expectations, stifling any chance to feel the transcendence the band built their legacy on. However, one glance around the arena says it's unlikely the crowd is looking for anything like that. With Carlos Santana you know exactly what you're going to get; a dude in a hat playing a lot of guitar, a large backing band of similarly proficient musicians, and a piñata full of Latino goodtimes.
With well over 100 previous members, the current 11-piece lineup fills the stage with 30-odd drums and copious percussion, none of which is wasted. Riding rugged over the top off the heavily swung rhythms, pulsing bass and stinging Hammond oozes Carlos's guitar tone, dripping with sustain and busy as a Spanish flea pulling one song into the next. "I'm very grateful, very blessed at this time, on this planet," says Carlos after shaking the place to the ground for the umpteenth time. "It's important for us to stay lightheaded and to live in wonderment, healing and love." The audience cheers. "I happen to know a lot about love right now," he smiles. "You see, I got married in December to this lady..." and in walks Cindy Blackman (you know, Lenny Kravitz's drummer from Are You Gonna Go My Way). Cue a stonkering five-minute drum solo, a sloppy kiss and a blistering intro to Jingo, which has the audience cheering louder than ever.
From the crowd, many of who would have helped Abraxas to number one in 1971, there is a palpable excitement and a lot of arrhythmic arm waving when Santana pulls out Oyo Come Va and Evil Ways before segueing into A Love Supreme (there is a lot of segueing tonight). All inspiration for another soliloquy, this time we're told about 'SOCC' aka 'the Sound of Collective Consciousness' a concept with enough references to 'a younger time' and 'bringing the love from Woodstock' to make Anthony Carew apoplectic with rage. "If you remember one thing from tonight, make it this...you are light and love," he solemnly intones before we all, gender by gender, chant it back arms aloft: "I am light and love!" So, it’s a relief for some when the band launch into Sunshine of Your Love and several of his recent Smooth(er) efforts, taking us back to the safety of the idea of Carlos, leaving us free to comfortably nestle in his warm spirit and copious baggage.