Words & Images by Tony Stack

Santana :: 09.28.05 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: Morrison, CO

Santana :: 09.28 :: Red Rocks
It should come as little surprise that Robert Randolph and the Family Band have been opening up for the current Santana tour. Not only is Randolph one of the hottest, most talented string men around, he plays with his family, just like Carlos. You see, also along for this high-profile tour has been Carlos's son, Salvador Santana and his band. When one considered the spiritual impact both Randolph and Santana have had in their own ways, Red Rocks - often considered "the most spiritual venue in America" - seemed the perfect location for such an event.

As I scaled the steps leading to the famous natural Amphitheatre I could hear those ever-familiar notes emanating from Carlos's guitar as he was sitting in on the last song of Salvador's set. The full-house cheers led me to believe that we had many more highlights to come.

Robert Randolph :: 09.28 :: Red Rocks
I was wondering how Robert Randolph's set would go over in front of this Carlos-centric crowd, which I have to believe had either never heard of him or was seeing him for the very first time. It didn't take long to get the crowd on their feet with The Family Band's raw energy and unique sound. Songs like "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Purple Haze" did the trick, but when Robert got up from behind his pedal steel during an extended jam to take over the drumming duties, the crowd went nuts. By the end of the short, energetic set it was clear Robert had converted a few fans.

Carlos Santana :: 09.28 :: Red Rocks

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have seen Carlos Santana and the various incarnations of his band for nearly 20 years. By the mid-nineties, Santana's band had become bloated with nearly 20 people, multiple lead singers, countless family members, and a sound mélange that really didn't fit into any discernable genre. I often found this band arrangement disappointing as it seemed disorganized and unfocused.

Santana :: 09.28 :: Red Rocks

In stark contrast to this, Santana rolled into Denver leading a band that was lean and mean and ready to showcase the now reinvented and popular Santana sound, which blends searing guitar work with a pleasing Latin-pop sensibility. This San Francisco-based band, anchored by lead singer Andy Vargas and keyboardist and long-time member Chester Thompson, showed why this formula has been so successful.

Even Carlos's dress seemed to reflect this streamlined approach. He prowled the stage dressed in black, like a ninja stalking his prey. Like each step he took on the stage, every note was carefully chosen with an economical flair that gave each song a greater importance. Carlos seems to shy away from the classic extended "guitar solo," opting instead for quick, short, machine-gun-like bursts that filled the vocal gaps.

The set opened with Carlos being accompanied by his nine-man band including a two-man horn section that really filled out the sound. Carlos worked his way through some more recent and soulful material from Supernatural and Shaman, highlighted by some deft finger picking on the acoustic guitar for "Maria, Maria." He also mixed in classics like "Samba Pa Ti," "Black Magic Woman," and "Oye Como Va."

Santana :: 09.28 :: Red Rocks
The real fireworks occurred toward the end of the show when Robert Randolph came out for three songs, including "Evil Ways" into "A Love Supreme." As much as the crowd loved that, I was blown away by the awesome version of the 1980's arena rocker "Open Invitation."

There are few artists who have aged as well as Carlos Santana (both musically and physically). He may not play in the same psychedelic vein he built his kingdom on, but he does still tap into the same soulful delivery and spot-on guitar action he's always displayed. Like all of us, Santana has grown and developed; perhaps we should listen more closely, maybe we'll find some guidance or some hint that will allow us the same grace we see in this always masterful musician.

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[Published on: 10/12/05]

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