Somebody should have thrown a parade or something. What better occasion could there possibly be than the return of Santana’s classic lineup—or at least most of it— after decades apart. As evidenced by the glorious reunion album Santana IV, which hit the streets in April, the old magic was still there.
Just weeks before the release, Santana made the House of Blues in Las Vegas their playground, transforming the place into a veritable hothouse of flowering musical hybrids. Gorgeously documenting a joyous and passionate performance in imagery as pristine and warm as its remarkable sound, this vivid 2CD/DVD set is a reminder of the band’s supernatural chemistry in a live setting, as they revived the colorful, flowing Latin-flavored mélange of jazz, rock, psychedelia and blues that is quintessential Santana in celebratory, transcendent jams that could have gone on forever.
All the familiar elements were there. Complex, rolling rhythms, courtesy of percussionists Michael Carabello and Karl Perazzo. Powerful, athletic drumming from Michael Schrieve. Storming Hammond organ swells and swirls summoned by none other than Greg Rolie. And underneath the fluid and often fiery guitar forays, effortlessly executed with soaring bravado and flair by the legendary Carlos Santana and his onetime protégé, Neal Schon, a strong undercurrent of Benny Rietveld’s seductive bass lines and David K. Mathews’ shapeshifting keyboards surreptitiously pulls it all together.
Whether furiously working themselves into a lather in the opener “Soul Sacrifice” or closing with an exuberant, almost frenzied “Toussaint L’ Overture,” Santana set out to prove there is still plenty of cohesive vigor and poetry in their playing on Live at the House of Blue, Las Vegas. With its laid-back grooves and sultry atmosphere, their medley of “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen/Oye Como Va” is as sexy as “Samba Pa Ti” is spiritual and contemplative. And as a swaying, feverish “Evil Ways” simmers, lost in a devilishly exotic reverie, the medley of “Batuka/No One to Depend On” sounds gritty and tough.
Even the newer material shines here, as “Love Makes the World Go Round” and “Freedom in Your Mind” (with Ronald Isley offering soulful vocals) are filled with humanity and uplifting sentiment and “Choo Choo” and “All Aboard” benefit from a greater emphasis on propulsion and masculinity. Santana advocates for the use of psychotropic substances to enjoy this particularly trippy experience of “Caminando,” and it is good advice. Here’s some more: Enjoy this version of Santana while they’re still around.