Santana + The Doobie Brothers @ Perth Arena 07/04/17 (Live Review)
It was always going to be a night of the nostaglic for those in attendance when legendary Latin/rock fusion guitarist Carlos Santana and his band kicked off their 2017 Australian tour at Perth Arena on Friday night, and to to add to the trip back through the decades for fans of 70’s music The Doobie Brothers were along for the ride.
Opening with Jesus Is Just Alright, the band were in absolutely smashing form with tight four part vocal harmonies and a three pronged guitar attack courtesy of founding members Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons and longtime guitarist John McFee. It was in fact Johnston who stole the show at every turn with his soaring vocal delivery and deft guitar solos as the band took in a career spanning setlist that went from searing blues to ‘Doobie Style’ funk rock, taking in some of the more esoteric psychedelic moments and country honk along the way. Rockin’ Down The Highway had most of the ground floor crowd on their feet two songs in and it seemed like the house PA system cranked up a few notches in response. The Doobies were LOUD.
It was perhaps inevitable that some expectations were going to be placed on the band to deliver songs from the Michael McDonald years, but the band chose to include Taking It To The Streets as a reminder of the softer soul-rock approach they took in 1976 and instead concentrated on the full tilt rock sound that defined them on earlier albums. With a set heavy on songs from 1973’s The Captain and Me and it’s follow up What Once Were Vices Are Now Habits the energy and pace of the set flowed and what amounted to just over an hour set flew by. The acoustic country rock of Spirit and the decidedly hippy-ish Clear As The Driven Snow broke up the rock heavy songs nicely, but it was the familiar sounds of Dark Eyed Cajun Woman and The Doctor that propelled their set towards its inevitable climax. As Johnston reeled off the uber-funk intro to Long Train Runnin the Arena was suddenly transported back to disco fever and it was almost impossible to stay seated. The power chords that heralded in China Grove were lean and muscular, and with the sound throughout augmented by Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne the song sounded absolutely massive. But it was always going to be Listen To The Music that they ended with and The Doobies didn’t disappoint, with the entire arena singing along. Classic songs delivered as only these guys know how.
As the stage was reset, the screen came alive withe the now familiar footage of Carlos Santana‘s set at the 1969 Woodstock Festival – the show that pretty much launched his international career – and as his huge band, including his wife Cindy Blackman on drums, struck up a pulsating rhythm the guitarist strode nonchalantly to centre stage and proceeded to lay down a series of blistering solos as only he can. A fusion of rock, blues, Latin and jazz his music is one of the most instantly definable to the ear and he and his band were in fine form. “We want to elevate the energy in here to a place beyond fear and illusion” the guitarist informed the crowd, and they certainly did a fine job of attempting to do just that. The absolutely gorgeous Maria Maria featured early on in the set and allowed Santana to show off some of his flamenco/classical chops as well as his usual bluesy electric solos.
Even for the most staunch of listeners it’s almost impossible to sit still and not be affected by their performance, such is the power and the passion of a Santana show. With his distinctive guitar tone to the fore, it’s as much about what he DOESN’T play as what he does; even at the age of 71 his lightning fast fretboard runs are pristine and yet he can slay an arena full of people with just a few well placed notes. Truly a master musician.
As always, he was flanked on either side by his two amazing vocalists who worked the crowd into a frenzy and handled the duties vacated by some of the guitarist’s celebrity duet work with consummate ease. The more familiar world music sounds of Corazon Espinado had the crowd on its feet once more swaying to its polyrhythms and these songs were interspersed with a series of covers too. His now well known take on John Coltrane’s gargantuan A Love Supreme – a piece Santana recorded with jazz/rock virtuoso John McLaughlin – was given the latino fusion treatment as was a surprise take on Enya’s hit Orinoco Flow, the layers of Celtic-flavoured synths replaced by a mass of pulsing drums and percussion giving the piece a more definite drive but sacrificing some of the atmospherics of the original. Likewise Light My Fire mashed up The Doors classic with Fire by the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (there’s one for the kids to look up on YouTube!) and whilst still being given the Santana makeover managed to feature snatches of the originals keyboard riffs.
But it was his version of Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman that really bought the house down along with Oye Como Va. The two seem to fit together hand-in-hand in the guitarist’s canon and remain as fresh and as potent now as when they were released and were the perfect way to round out the main set. The band returned to the stage shortly to power through Soul Sacrifice, the song featured in the film version of Woodstock and still one of the most powerful pieces he’s ever composed. It’s almost a religious experience to witness, like an all-encompassing shroud of higher function emotional energy that one can lose themselves in, eyes closed in rapture. After this the more commercial Rob Thomas duet of Smooth almost seemed a let down, but was redeemed by the overwhelmingly positive Peace, Love and Happiness, as good a message to end the night on as any.
To witness such an amazing musician, one whose legend was born at Yasgur’s farm way back in 1969 and continues to this day, is truly an honour and a privilege. Here’s hoping that that legend and the man behind it continue for many years yet to come.