Photo & Story by Scott A. Smith
The genre-bending Carlos Santana forever will be one of the most innovative, unique-sounding guitarists in all corners of music.
Proof that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee still can deliver the high-decibel goods was on full-tilt display when Santana hopped through an energized set Oct. 5 at the Walmart AMP in Rogers, Arkansas. The packed outdoor amphitheater was awash by Santana’s salsa-style rock for two fast-moving hours, with the all-ages audience cheering throughout early evening takes of “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va.” Santana even slipped the melody of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” into the upbeat proceedings moments, and the party favorite “Tequila” and Rare Earth gem “Get Ready” also found room on Santana’s set list.
The amphitheater’s sound was loud and full, with bassist Benny Rietveld’s low notes coming through with amazing clarity. His bass often was as loud as Santana’s six-string bursts, but the low-end notes never diluted the fedora-wearing band leader’s guitar patterns.
If anyone had reservations regarding the modern-day Carlos’ guitar abilities, those doubts died during the concert’s first few seconds. At 67, Santana still can play 98 percent of the world’s guitarists under the table and out the back door. When the musical passages grew in intensity, the fingers on Santana’s left hand scurried up and down his guitar neck while savage pick strokes ensued. When the moments grew pin-drop quiet, Santana’s guitar sounded as if it were cooing like a content baby.
Santana’s guitar tone was every bit as impressive as his playing. Rich in sound and flavor, Santana’s tone meshed terrifically with second guitarist Tommy Anthony.
Initiated by a half-dozen drum strikes, “Smooth,” the chart-burning 1999 Santana/Rob Thomas duet, arrived near the end of the gig, with singers Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas perfectly handling the vocal part originally delivered by Thomas. The second that Carlos’ unleashed the song’s trademark guitar lead – it’s a gritty-style Santana sound that features traces of Robert Fripp’s equally memorable guitar solo from David Bowie’s perfect ’77 gem, “Heroes” – the multi-generational audience rocketed to its collective feet with a roar.
After “Smooth” set the show’s bar so high, Santana dug deep into a riveting take of “Soul Sacrifice,” the Santana track that was every bit a Woodstock festival highlight as The Who, Joe Cocker and Jimi Hendrix. Film footage of the original Santana band playing at Woodstock was projected overhead as the 2014 Santana group pounded out the outstanding, proggish arrangement and rhythms. Many moments of the live song came within shooting distance of reaching the edgy greatness of the Woodstock version.
Carlos Santana’s verbal introductions of his current band were equally captivating, as drummer Jose “Pepe” Jimenez and percussionists Karl Perazzo and Paoli Mejias playfully dueled on their respective instruments when their names were announced. Tommy Anthony threw a playful curveball to the crowd when Carlos spoke his name, launching into the six-string staccato of The Police’s “Roxanne.” When Anthony opened his mouth, Sting’s voice seemingly rushed into the microphone. It was uncanny – and downright exciting – how Anthony sounded exactly like Sting in his vocal prime. This moment was one of many that showed just how versatile the Santana band players are as entertainers and, more importantly, it reveals just how committed they are to sharing and expanding upon their song-filled art.