TVD Live: Santana at Treasure Island, 4/8

WELCH, MN | There is something about the serenity and tone of Carlos Santana that keeps him soaring, more than a half century after the world ignited from the Latin fire he brought to Woodstock. The magic of that appearance, which essentially made the band’s career, continues to be alive as the band that performs under his name plays every show, including one at a rural Minnesota casino on a chilly April night.

His generous set at the Treasure Island Casino in Welch, MN, last Friday (4/8) didn’t culminate with the Woodstock hits; it started with it. First with footage from the popular movie, and three songs from the band’s first album that they played at that mammoth stage: “Soul Sacrifice,” “Jingo,” and “Evil Ways” without a break between them.

And then they jumped to the peaks of their million-selling second album—their cover of  Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” that segues into Gabor Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen,” right into their version of Tito Puente’s “One Coma Va,” just as it came on Abraxas.

The five song assault—joyful and fulfilling enough to fill a winning Super Bowl halftime show—was capped with the coolness of “Samba Pa Ti,” the lilting instrumental, which like so much of Santana’s music has perfect tone and control, and wild power as the percussion revs behind him.

Santana, at 74, is quite a serene player on stage, head tilting back as he reacts to the pure notes on his custom Paul Reed Smith, often turning to his band like a jazz player to give and receive their input. He wore a shirt that pictured Jimi Hendrix; other nights he’d wear Bob Marley. He continues to exemplify the best of both men in their musical chops and uplift.

And when the crowd had received so much, so soon in the set, they were quite happy to receive his blissed-out spiritual speeches that followed in what is the show’s first break between songs. There was also a moment given to sing happy birthday to his longtime conga player Karl Perazzo, who has been with the band since the early ’90s.

The band by now is quite different than it may have been in the late ’60s, but still as effective, with David K. Mathews on a variety of tasty keyboards (he had replaced original Santana organist Chester Thompson in Tower of Power as well). Tommy Anthony takes the thankless job as second guitarist, and Benny Reitveld plays a bass so musical that when it came time for his solo, he got a cheer and a singalong for including “Purple Rain” so close to Prince’s hometown.

Percussion is in many ways the heart of the band, and in the current lineup, it’s also Santana’s own heart in Cindy Blackman, the one-time drummer for Lenny Kravitz who has been Santana’s wife since 2010. Her exciting drum solos were made more dynamic by innovative video that included overhead shots of her overactive work.

Andy Vargas and Ray Greene do a good job fronting the band vocally, the latter adding some saxophone from time to time as well. And they help prove there is much more to Santana than just the early hits. Indeed, the 2021 album Blessings and Miracles was represented by two of the liveliest songs of the night, “Move,” and “Joy,” which he performed on the record with Chris Stapleton.

When Santana talked about reaching out to the country star  to work together, it sounded odd—why aren’t artists seeking him out to collaborate first? At any rate it aligned with his other mid-career success, teaming with people like Rob Thomas on the Grammy-winning chart-topper “Smooth” from the 12-million selling 1999 Supernatural, which won more Grammys (nine!) than Thriller.

With Santana’s presence—and the unerring grace on guitar, which doesn’t change in tone or power despite never tuning or switching up instruments—the band still excels on all fronts, particularly when it takes on new versions of old songs. Their version of the Zombies’ “She’s Not There” rocked but nobody quite expected their version of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” in the encore before tackling The Chambers Brothers’ “Love, Peace and Happiness” which escalated into Sly & the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher,” and right back to Woodstock.

SETLIST
Soul Sacrifice
Jingo
Evil Ways
Black Magic Woman (Gypsy Queen)
Oye Como Va
Samba pa ti
Everybody’s Everything
She’s Not There / Marbles
The Game of Love
Joy
Mve
(De la) Yaleo
Put Your Lights On
Corozón Espinado
Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile)
Maria Maria
Foo Foo

Are You Ready People
Smooth
Roadhouse Blues
Love, Peace and Happiness / I Want to Take You Higher

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