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Concert Reviews:
Santana plays it smooth -- and hot -- at DTE

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- How geeked was Carlos Santana to play on Sunday night, July 15, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre? So much so that the iconic guitar hero led his group on stage an unusual five minutes before the announced 8 p.m. starting time, catching fans off guard and causing a mildly panicked rush into the amphitheater.

All was forgiven, however, as Santana and company delivered more than two and a half hours of stunning and stirring instrumental ferocity, mixing precision dynamics with loose, improvisational forays while still managing to touch on the crucial moments from his 40-year-plus catalog. The group has made many visits to the DTE (and Pine Knob) during its own 40-year history, but Sunday's charged performance, on a hot and stuffy night, certainly ranked as one of its best.

The 11-piece ensemble was on fire from the moment it fired up the instrumental pairing of the brassy "Pig's Snout" and "Stranger in Moscow," with vocalists Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas joining for the tribal chants of "Love Is You Love Is Me." Santana used a sassy guitar break to tease his arrangement of Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman" into Gabor Szabo's "Gypsy Queen," and Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va," a dependable highlight, was accompanied by historical video footage from Santana's history and a rich keyboard solo by David K. Mathews.

The group certainly brought the hits, from early favorites such as "Jingo" (which ended with a bit of Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' "), "No One To Depend On," "Evil Ways" (which segued into John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme") and the Woodstock-immortalized "Soul Sacrifice" to late 90s resurgents such as "Maria Maria" and "Smooth," the latter pared with Dame Tu Amor." The group also dug deep for the gorgeously melodic "Europa" and "Batuka," as well as a cover of the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" with bit of John Lee Hooker's "Big Legs Tight Skirts" tossed in. An instrumental rendering of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" led into the hard-grinding "Nomad" from Santana's latest album, "Shape Shifter," while the guitarist's wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, spelled Dennis Chambers on drums for a fierce "Corazon Espinado" that featured solos by her and by bassist Benny Rietveld.

Santana also took time to pay tribute to Detroit music, particularly Motown and Aretha Franklin ("Our queen's got soul," he cracked) and to urge the DTE crowd to nurture its D.O.W. (Devout One Within) and to "make every day the best day of your life."

And suffice to say that Santana's performance certainly helped make Sunday one of those for the fans who were there.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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