Live At The House of Blues, Las Vegas
Eagle Rock Entertainment
As someone utterly embarrassed by some of Carlos Santana’s decisions over the last decade (well, nearly two decades I guess) I was in full support of the “classic” lineup reunion of the band, rather than the ongoing Carlos Santana + Guests Brand. He’d ruined Guitar Hero classics, killed his own reputation and dumb fans would tell you that he had a younger, hotter wife and a stack of Grammy Awards so it must have been a great decision.
I was in full support of the reunion and the idea that a new album, named Santana IV – as if to pick up some 40+ years on from when the first three Santana albums were released was pleasing in theory. And then I heard the album (review in that link above) and gave it a cautious tick. The lyrics are embarrassing but the grooves and the textures are there. The slick but fiery guitar playing is back – it isn’t the horrible gimmick it had become. And really it was about as close to good as a new Santana record could be; it was at least far better than anything Carlos had done under his “& Friends” banner.
But this – a DVD and double-CD (available in Blu Ray and other configurations including expensive multi-vinyl set if you like) has more grit and soul and heart and oomph to it than that new studio album. Here, warming up for a tour, we hear the classic Santana band pumping out the hits and feeling very alive.
Kickass versions of Soul Sacrifice, Jingo, Evil Ways and Everybody’s Everything get the set going. Then a trio of tunes from the new album slows things down slightly, though they soar more in this live context. And we can forgive the shoddy lyrics. Shake It sneaks in on a bed of percussion, Anywhere You Want To Go ends up sounding like a pastiche of past Santana solos anyway. Choo Choo doesn’t quite fare as well. But no matter. Samba Pa Ti is a crucial cooling tonic. Not as great as those definitive takes – nothing here stands up to what was captured on Lotus but then how could it, right? – but still nice. Nice being the right word. ‘Nice’ being what this reunion was about.
A few more new tunes bog things down a bit but Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen is a huge highlight. Sounding vital and magnificient. And Oye Como Va fair-hums too.
Love Makes The World Go Round is the best of the new tunes, in terms of how it bucks out of the gate.
And the huge finale, a set-piece of Santana’s shows, Toussaint L’Ouverture is as potent as it ever was; the only thing here that almost gets close to the Lotus rendition. It’s a little calmer, a little softer. But then so is the audience that wants this. All in all this is a very fine set – possibly a few songs too long, but the skip button is your friend. The Santana reunion won’t last forever and Carlos will release another horrible “solo” album soon enough. But this shows when the fire is lit he can still deliver. And so great to hear the others, in particular Michael Shrieve, he never sounds stressed or flummoxed and just nails the original parts. The lock between him the bass and percussion is the foundation for this band’s sound. And that’s still there. It was nice to hear that.