Carlos Santana

A front row view of one of the world's best guitarists

Carlos Santana, right in front of our eyes
21st June 2008 Jane Tomlinson

Last night at the NEC arena in Birmingham, Moth and I had the good fortune to be right at the front at a Santana gig. And I mean right at the front, pressed against the crash barrier there he was, the legendary guitarist Carlos Santana.

Carlos and his band play an extraordinary and original latino blues-based hard rock which sometimes morphs into jazz fusion. As a massive fan of percussion I love the fact that Santana uses three drummers and includes plenty of tambourine, maracas, notched scrapey gourds (I’m sure they have proper name but I don’t know what that is), whistles, tinkly bells, shakers and cowbell.

And soaring around in the middle of it all is the sound of Carlos’s gorgeous guitar.

We saw Santana play two years ago but were back in the 14th row, so didn’t feel the total immersion of being at the front and having nothing in your field of vision but the band, and that huge HUGE sound. (I’m struggling to hear much through my left ear today.)

I remember when I first heard his double live album Moonflower back in the late 70s, I thought it was the most exciting, emotional and beautiful music I’d ever heard. I still think so. And while his music has progressed in the past 35 years, you can still feel that Moonflower magic in shows. They obviously enjoy playing so much. When Carlos says ‘it’s a privilege to play for you tonight’ you know he means it. The band smiled and danced their way through two and half vigorous hours on stage, with no break. Thankfully the guy vigorously playing the tiger-striped congas- Raoul – has arms like tree trunks to get him through such a marathon.

The keyboard player (who was right in front of us) Chester Thompson, and I shared a couple of smiles throughout the evening. He’s played with Carlos for decades.

The set included many old favourites, opening with the pumping sing-a long riff of Jingo and moving on through Oye Como Va, Soul sacrifice,No one to depend on, Black Magic Woman/Gypsy queen, and his more recent hits Smooth and Maria, Maria.

A joyous performance!

Photos: Moth Clark