Live Review: It’s All About the Music for Santana and Steve Winwood

Published on July 27th, 2010

July 25, 2010 – These days, there’s a little extra spring in the steps that Carlos Santana takes on stage, and a wide smile on his face as he plays. Why, you ask? Well to put it simply, the legendary guitarist who introduced the world to latin fused rock music is in love. Santana is on tour billed as Universal Tone with Steve Winwood, so he’s riding not only a high of performing in front of fans, but the high of proposing to his now finacee on stage just earlier this month. Ever since, there’s been a renewed spirit in Carlos that’s quite noticeable.

Sunday evening’s concert in Washington, DC at Jiffy Lube Live was no exception. In a performance that lasted over two hours, Santana showed the crowd (with a little help from Steve Winwood) that there’s still a whole lot of life in the songs that defined a different time, but there’s room for new experimentation, too.

Opening a show with three brand new songs in a row is a risk that few musicians would be willing to take. But that’s exactly how Steve Winwood began his tight set of guitar and organ jams that spanned his entire musical career. He was seated at his Hammond organ for the first two of the night; that signature tenor gliding over the top of newly crafted songs. But the momentum didn’t really pick up until “Dirty City” brought Winwood to the guitar, and he began to interact more with the band behind him.

When Steve Winwood picks up his Stratocaster, you know it’s going to sound good. He claimed a center-stage spot, and blistered away on the guitar surrounded in a semi-circle by his band. Hits from Blind Faith and Traffic followed, and the groove just got tighter and tighter. It felt more like a fun studio jam among friends than a rehearsed concert when the songs were extended and sections elaborated. They had the crowd on their feet for a grand finish of “Gimme Some Lovin’“.

Carlos Santana packs a lot of people on stage to help him deliver the spicy guitar licks that he’s become famous for. Backup singers, percussionists, and horn players were among those who formed the sound known as Santana for the enthusiastic concert-goers. Starting off with latin inspired selections from his 1999 runaway Supernatural album, Carlos and the band collaborated on stage to present a clean, but layered mix of guitar and vocals.

The star of the show looked just as one would expect. Guitar in hand, long locks of curly black hair, topped off with a hat and sunglasses. Yes, Carlos Santana may have stuck to safe bets when it came to his wardrobe, but he wasn’t about to do the same with his music.

Despite his cool demeanor, Carlos wasn’t very coy about sharing feelings when it comes to love and life. In fact, he could hardly wait until after the first song finished to tell the crowd about his recent engagement to drummer Cindy Blackman. “I’m in love, and I’m so very happy,” Santana proclaimed in a rather lengthy chat with his fans.

“I’m happy because my woman is happy. Let me tell all the men that you need to make sure that you keep your love happy, because if you don’t, nothing will go your way, he warned. “Not even Barack Obama will be able to help you!”

But there were no more one-liners after that, as the focus quickly switched from the spiritual aspects of life to the spirit of Santana’s music. The rich sound of lively percussion complimented Carlos’ emotional playing, as he sported a smile that seemed to say “this sounds good”.

But aside from the clear-as-day tone emerging from from his guitar, Santana commanded little attention to himself on stage. Choosing to play in the background behind members of the band more than he chose to play near the front and center of the stage, it seemed unusual at times when his two male singers were hamming it up more than the master.

Santana’s guitar work ranged from the strictly traditional to the highly improvisational, especially noticeable as he worked new sections of notes into the well known solos of “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman“. Other song choices included danceable favorites like the irresistible “Smooth“, and choices like Cream‘s “Sunshine of Your Love” that had to be favorites for guitar enthusiasts.

That latter track will make an appearance on the forthcoming Guitar Heaven album, along with “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking“, another song that was tested out in front of fans at the concert. The result was an overwhelming success, but one has to wonder what would have happened if the band would have broke into a different song from Santana’s upcoming album – say, AC/DC‘s “Back in Black“, for example. But then again, if anyone could give that song an R&B infusion, it would be Carlos Santana.

Keeping things interesting, Winwood returned to the stage for one song with Santana. It would have been a thrill to see both guitar players in action, but alas – he took to the organ. Still, seeing the two together in concert is something special regardless of instrument.

There’s a humble aura that radiates from the performances of both Carlos Santana and Steve Winwood. They’re brilliant players who deserve all sorts of attention from fans, but they don’t seek it anymore. It’s the spirit of the music, not the glory of rock star fame that attracts them to the stage time and time again.

With sets of hits that encapsulate both psychedelic and latin influences to bring it to life all over again, the two are are a match that can’t go wrong.


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