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Concert Reviews:
Santana celebrates peace, love and rock at Freedom Hill

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2017

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STERLING HEIGHTS -- It’s possible that Carlos Santana was being hyperbolic when he promised the boomer-dominated crowd in the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill on Wednesday night, June 9, that “you’re gonna leave her feeling like you’re 17 years old.”

But the guitarist and his bandmates certainly played like they were closer to their youthful prime than to rock ‘n’ roll retirement home.

Related: Santana at Freedom Hill, 5 Things To Know

That’s no surprise, of course. Santana’s reputation as a fierce and exciting live act is well-earned and deserved and Wednesday’s upheld and perhaps even enhanced that status over an explosive two hours and 15 minutes of the group’s trademark rock/jazz/Latin fusion.

The rock portion of the equation was forefront this time out thanks to Santana’s wife, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, who certainly has formidable chops in all genres on but on Wednesday kicked the other eight members -- including her husband -- hard throughout the set. The high-octane energy was evident throughout, but the heart of the show came during a breathless section in middle as the group tore through its versions of Babatude Olatunji’s “Jin-go-lo-ba” and Willie Bobo’s “Evil Ways,” a soulful interpolation of John Coltraine’s “A Love Supreme” -- complete with a Santana sermonette about love as “the opposite of Korea and Donald Trump” -- and molten renditions of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and Swamp Dogg’s “Total Destruction To your Mind.”

There were plenty of other highlights, including a rich “Mona Lisa” and plenty of hits such as “Maria Maria,” “Smooth,” “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” and “Oyo como va.” Blackman Santana’s delivery of “I Remember” -- the lone new song (which she composed) on Santana’s new “Power Of Peace” collaboration with the Isley Brothers -- was tentative but heartfelt, supported by Carlos Santana standing right next to her throughout (and later cheering her on from side stage during her drum solo).

Related: See more photos from the show

And the group also paid a classy tribute to the late Glen Campbell, who died the day before, with a stylized version of his 1967 single “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” marked by thematic improvisations by Santana and keyboardist David K. Matthews.

Carlos Santana, of course, was the star of his own show, and with good reason. Sporting a black fedora and a black T-shirt with the white dove from the “Power Of Peace” cover, the guitarist found room in every song to stretch out and improvise, often at length. displaying both subtle restraint and shredding bombast. There were a few moments when Santana’s exuberance took him a little far afield from the rest of the band, but he never got completely lost in his indulgences, always finding his way back in relatively short order.

Santana sent the Freedom Hill crowd out on a high note with the Chambers Brothers’ “Love, Peace & Happiness” and “The Highest Good.” And if they didn’t’ feel like teenagers again as they left the venue, Santana’s joyful celebration certainly made them feel better about their world for the moment.

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