The city was buzzing for this show long before the Santana band ever took the Prospera Place stage last night. Downtown restaurants and bars were packed, and everybody was talking about how much they were looking forward to the concert.
That both the man and his band have long ago attained icon status is unquestionable. How they earned that status is what keeps them filling arenas and delighting fans across North America and around the world. Last night, like every other night this reviewer has seen this band over some 4 decades, Santana delivered not just the classic Santana sound, but all the energy that goes into and comes out of that.
The roar from the audience went up the moment the house lights went down. It would not abate until some 2 ½ hours later after a 2 hour main set and an extended 30 minute encore. With no opening act, the pent-up expectation was able to be unleashed in an explosion of admiration and enthusiasm that threatened to push the walls out and the roof off the top of this Kelowna concert venue.
Every period from Santana’s career, as a band as well as Carlos’ solo career, was covered over the course of the evening. Songs going all the way back to 1970’s Abraxas album and continuing through his smash hit, 9 Grammy award winning Supernatural CD found their way onto a set list that apparently changes every night on the Divination tour. Classics such as Black Magic Woman, Oye Como Va and She’s Not There were delivered with the same passion and energy as they have been since the day they were released. The hugely popular instrumental track Europa, which continues to inspire guitar players of all stripes, was given a quite different treatment than the version that appeared on the Moonflower album.
Having been deeply influenced by other great improvisors from a variety of styles and genres, Santana and his band often ventured into very interesting territory by playing with time as well as playing some outside lines that always found their way home and resolved beautifully. As is also common from gifted and daring soloists, numerous musical references and direct quotes from artists as diverse as George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane found their way into the songs that had audience members gasping and delightfully pointing them out to whoever they were there with.
More recent mega hits such as Maria Maria and Smooth brought the audience to their feet and lifted the energy level even higher than what was already off the hook. While these songs stayed closer to their recorded versions, they were still awarded the respect they deserve from the band who laid them down with authority and passion.
The main set stopped just a couple minutes short of 2 hours. After a very brief moment in the wings the band retook the stage and gave a full 30 minute encore which included an astonishing 8-10 minute drums solo from Carlos’ wife Cindy Blackman Santana that had the entire crowd both mesmerized and immobilized. Nobody even thought of heading towards the exits. Then came Smooth. The gathered fans erupted yet again and what will be the concert of the year continued.
During the show Carlos Santana took a few minutes to thank his fans and said “anyone who comes to a Santana concert runs the hell away from normal!” Santana on this stop of their Divination tour kept running away from normal, running somewhere way beyond that by offering a night filled with great songs played with ridiculous musical virtuosity, deep passion, and clearly evident joy from every band member.