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Published: 2003/07/09
by Chad Berndtson

Santana, Tweeter Center, Mansfield, MA- 6/25

Waxing poetic about Carlos Santana's guitar skills is preaching to the
converted: with one of the most recognizable tones in the history of rock
guitar, he's an improvisational legend. He dominates, yes, but he's just as
comfortable as an ensemble player, and thus forces his 12-piece touring unit
(one which has gone through more incarnations than the Allmans and the Dead
combined) to rise to his own demanding levels.

Hence, the unique magic of the Santana Band, which manages to find the
middle ground between flash and cohesiveness: not easy for a band that turns
eclectic jams into spontaneous displays of virtuosity, moves at a blistering
rhythmic pace, and combines so many different styles—jazz, Afrobeat, funk,
Latin—over a rock palette. Two of Santana's oldest and most famous
earthshakers, the opening "Jingo" and the rare, extremely well-placed
"Incident At Neshabur," best illustrated how much power a 12-man ensemble
can generate when moving together.

Carlos' fiery guitar and his two able vocalists (Andy Vargas and Tony
Lindsay) dominated much of the set, but expert song placing (new and old
tunes mixed so well they could have all come from the same era), and ample
breathing room for the rest of the band guaranteed no slow moments. Notable
guest spots brought the heat as well: singer Alejandro Lerner emerged to
sing lead on the mellow "Hoy es Adios," and sultry opening act Angelique
Kidjo brought fire and vigor for a rousing version of her own "Adouma."

"Black Magic Woman" brought thunderous roars from the crowd, and for the
last twenty minutes of the set the band turned into a runaway train, gliding
through the Peter Green blues into "Gypsy Queen." Carlos took center stage
for primo soloing, firing on all cylinders and interpolating Hendrix's
"Third Stone" before landing into an earthshaking "Oye Como Va" to close.

The classic hits rang true, no doubt, but some of the night's more disarming
surprises were not the lengthy explorations into the titanic Santana hits
from earlier days, but how Carlos and Co. so ably mined material-both radio
staples and hidden gems—from the recent, guest-heavy revival albums (1999's
Supernatural and 2002's Shaman).

"The Game of Love," which on Shaman features Michelle Branch and comes
across as a playful but forgettable love song, here got some Sam Cooke soul
from Tony Lindsay, and some interesting funk-groove from the mighty rhythm
section. High speed Latin and worldbeat rhythms ruled the day on Shaman's
"Aye Aye Aye," and then later Supernatural's "Yaleo," which broke down into
a solo showcase for drummer Dennis Chambers. Megahit "Maria Maria" was ably
handled by both vocalists, Vargas on the main verses and Lindsay on the
hip-hop laden phrases, but it was Carlos himself who opened the tune with a
dramatic, classical-style solo on the acoustic, providing an inertia which
made the song's opening bass line feel like a shot in the arm.

And the encore, strange and maybe even disappointing on paper, was perhaps
the best example of how these newer tunes came alive in the concert setting.
Supernatural's Everlast-sung "Put Your Lights On" was a haunting slow
burner, and the inevitable "Smooth,"—the song that spearheaded Santana's
Grammy juggernaut in '99—was less pop and more grind, sandwiched between
the Carlos guitar solo joint "Apache" and a neat segue into "Dame Tu Amor."
The final encore was Shaman's "Novus," which on the album has lead vocals
from the great Placido Domingo but unfortunately sounds like a missing
number from Broadway's Rent. It was a bold choice, and delivered extremely
well, wisely downplaying the lyrical balladry and bringing the haunting
guitar and bass lines to the fore.

For this reporter, summer finally arrived with the Santana band's
captivating cocktail of spirituality, connection, and watershed
improvisation. And they're a band on a mission, too: all of the net proceeds
from the 2003 tour will be donated to the global AIDS fight.

Three plus decades after Woodstock, Carlos' messages of freedom and, as he
himself describes it, "shedding the old skin" ring truer than ever. But
unlike many outspoken performers today, he and his band have the conviction
to sell those ideas through music instead of just words.

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