You don’ t just get Santana’s music, you get his heart and soul. His spirituality. And you somehow find your own.
Sure Carlos Santana can make you dance.
But he wants to make you listen – to yourself.
Several times during his intimate show Monday at the House of Blues in Anaheim, Santana counseled the audience to just take a breath, find their inner core, their beam of light, what makes them “holy, sacred and divine.” To strive for equality, justice and freedom.
Santana isn’ t just an iconic, legendary guitarist, he is the shaman of Latin-Afro rock.
And this wasn’ t just a 2 ½-hour concert, it was a spiritual healing – with a groove.
In a black Adidas jacket and black leather pants, Santana celebrated life with heart-pumping guitar jams, licking his fingers before launching into a frantic solo, bending his back as he bent a string, grimacing in ecstasy during an especially emotional “Europa.”
He can make a guitar wail and cry, then make it roar like a Mustang engine.
His words can be equally biting, like when he took a jab at President Trump and former top White House adviser Steve Bannon.
Santana’s poke at POTUS 45 sparked one fan to tell him what he could do with his feelings. This is, after all, Orange County.
But you don’ t just get Santana’s music, you get his heart and soul. His spirituality. And you somehow find your own.
Of course, the showstoppers were classic standards, “Evil Ways, ” “Black Magic Woman, ” and “Oye Como Va, ” all done faithfully and with much energy by lead singers Andy Vargas and Ray Greene. As if by magic, everybody in the crowd somehow speaks Spanish during “Oye Como Va, ” or at least enough to sing along.
Vargas and Greene keep the show moving, not just with their apt vocals, but with their stage presence, prowling like big cats.
And the crowd went nuts when Santana launched into “Smooth, ” a song that really benefits from having writer and original singer Rob Thomas at the mic. It feels a little flat without him.
Santana’s “Maria, Maria, ” was spicy and biting, an audience pleaser, along with the slick “Foo Foo, ” which had hips shaking and hands waving. Santana’s presence was almost too big for the HOB, nearly stripping the paint off the walls.
“Corazon Espinado, ” the tale of a heart wrapped in thorns, mashed with “Quajira, ” for a rocking workout.
It was also a reminder, when Santana gives you his heart, you get it thorns and all. He has little patience with self-haters. Santana ended the night with a blessing, a cover of the Chambers Brothers, “Love, Peace and Happiness.”
Santana’s version was not powerful enough for a closer, but its heart was in the right place.
If Santana is the state of Latin rock, the future might well be Chicano Batman, the Los Angeles band that opened the night.
They have an eclectic sound, sort of like if Curtis Mayfield were to cumbia. It reminded me of the soundtrack to “Superfly.” I kept seeing Ron O’ Neal walk through the ghetto.
Their funky guitars and heavy organ also mixed an Oldies sound with psychodelia.
Top it off with charismatic frontman Bardo Martinez and the booming basswork of Eduardo Arenas, wrap it in blue tuxedos, toss in a wah-wah pedal and you have a band that not only commands interest, but respect.
They are a little erratic – and a tad dissonant — but to fans that rawness might be part of their charm.
They are slated this weekend for the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival in Colorado, it would be well worth the road trip.