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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 1:48 am | Fair 46º


Jeff Moehlis: Carlos Santana, A Real Guitar Hero

Legendary guitarist hits all the right notes at the Chumash Casino Resort

There are a few rock guitarists whose playing and tone is so distinctive that after just a few notes you know who it is. I remember the first time I heard Roger Waters’ solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, I thought, “Who does this guitarist think he is, Eric Clapton?” So I looked at the credits, and lo and behold, it was Clapton. I’d also put the immortal Jimi Hendrix and U2’s The Edge in this category.

Another is Carlos Santana, whose playing is distinguished by its expressiveness, which comes through in his warm distorted tone, sustained notes, use of dynamics, and phrasing that draws upon rock, jazz and Latin stylings. Not surprisingly, his guitar playing was the star of the nearly three-hour sold-out concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez on Wednesday night.

The concert started with a rather cacophonous intro from the band, both large and loud — with three drummers, including Santana’s wife, Cindy Blackman — in which the guitar parts of a few well-known songs at times broke through, such as Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop,” Free’s “All Right Now” and Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” Eventually, the band settled into a cover of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” with rapped verses and sung choruses before morphing into the chant from Funkadelic’s “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.”

My hopes and dreams (for a Santana concert, at least) were fulfilled next, with the band playing the first three songs from the 1970 Latin-jazz-rock masterpiece, Abraxas. Here the hallmarks of Santana were on full display: cool grooves, expressive guitar solos and classic songs like “Black Magic Woman” — with the main theme from Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun” thrown in for good measure — and “Oye Como Va.” Personally. I would’ve been happy for Santana to continue on through with the rest of the album, but of course there is more to Santana than this classic period.

Indeed, next up was “Maria Maria,” which hit No. 1 30 years after Abraxas was released, and “Foo Foo” from yet a few years later, both with a spicy Latin flavor that got the crowd on its feet. (It probably helped that Santana told the audience that they were “way too young to be sitting down”.) Later, at the end of the main set, was another newish song — his 1999 mega-hit “Smooth” with its tasty guitar lick that introduced him to a new generation.

He also revisited his earliest songs, including “Jingo;” “Soul Sacrifice,” which kicked off the encore and is well known to the ex-hippies as one of the highlights of the Woodstock movie; and “Evil Ways,” which segued into John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” Say, did anyone else notice that Santana’s snappy white outfit resembled the one he wears on the album cover of Love Devotion Surrender, his 1972 collaboration with John McLaughlin that includes their version of of “A Love Supreme?” A rockin’ cover of the contemporary song, “Sunshine Of Your Love” — originally by Cream and with the guitar of fellow guitar hero Eric Clapton — was also on the program.

Santana also did a bit of cosmic sermonizing during the concert, and parts of this really resonated with the show’s vibe. Quoting Nelson Mandela: “Revenge is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die;” quoting Bob Marley: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery;” and quoting John Coltrane: “One positive thought creates billions of positive vibrations.” And from Carlos Santana: “You do matter, you’re significant, you’re meaningful, you can make a difference.”

A few of Santana’s bandmembers also had a chance to shine in the spotlight. Midconcert, Benny Rielveld tore it up with an amazing bass solo, which was followed by an incredible drum solo by Blackman. During “Soul Sacrifice,” Dennis Chambers had the drum solo honors.

Santana has had an amazing career spanning four decades, with the common thread being his expressive guitar that continues to touch the hearts and souls of his audiences. Thanks, Carlos, for the positive vibrations.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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