“I am higher than an astronaut’s butt,” says Carlos Santana to the enraptured audience inside the Apollo tonight. “You’re like hashish to me!” Perhaps that’s not incense wafting through the room – there’s no need for a dry ice machine – and although Santana may be closing in on his seventies, the lion still roars. This is not a band to trade on soft-tinted nostalgia. They play for just shy of three hours and hit the ground in a flat-out sprint. That intensity is vital – the summer of love was a lifetime ago and Santana’s message of universal peace could easily sound cliché but when the music slams into your chest like a bull, it’s so much easier to forgive the platitudes of Love Makes The World Go Round and Freedom In Your Mind.
There’s no brass section tonight, but the combination of drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana, conguero Paoli Mejias, and percussionist Karl Perazzo unleashes a rhythmic whirlwind. Perazzo, who has been with Santana for twenty-five years, just tears up his every solo. With so much happening musically it takes two vocalists, Ray Greene and Andy Vargas, to match the power of the players. The duo tirelessly works the crowd and when not singing they grab hand percussion to jump into the groove.
Alongside The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band, Santana brought the elasticity and virtuosity of jazz to a rock format. But this is no noodling fusion outfit or amorphous jam band that mistakes endless guitar solos for improvisation. This is a group defined by spontaneity and flexibility. Willie Dixon’s I Just Want To Make Love To You is channelled via Jimi Hendrix, while Right On! flips into Eleanor Rigby and back again. They save the biggest hits for last, jamming out the intro to Black Magic Woman, followed by the irresistible Oye Como Va. They encore with Smooth in which guitarist Tommy Anthony does an uncanny impersonation of Sting singing Roxanne, then blast through Swamp Dogg’s Total Destruction To Your Mind before Toussaint L’Ouverture carries the audience breathlessly to the finish line. As for the man himself, whenever Santana lets rip, he reaches for the heavens with each coruscating solo. The only lull comes when Santana pauses to preach about love and unity. “Some people say he’s a tripped out hippy,” he laughs, but in post-Brexit Britain, perhaps peace, love, harmony and Santana are exactly what the nation needs.
Love Makes The World Go Round
Freedom In Your Mind
Samba Pa Ti
A Love Supreme
Hope You’re Feeling Better
I Just Want To Make Love To You
Black Magic Woman
Oye Como Va
Total Destruction To Your Mind