Santana pulls passion into performance
By Josh Bell
Carlos Santana operates on a higher plane than most of us. The legendary guitarist has always incorporated a spiritual element into his music, and that sense of serene, elevated consciousness comes through in his entire demeanor. “I don’t feel shy or embarrassed to let people know that my music is spiritual and sensual, and you can’t separate it,” Santana says. Anyone checking out Santana’s new resident show, Greatest Hits Live: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, will immediately get the feeling that he’s trying to convey.
After spending two years at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel, Santana has moved over to the more intimate House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, and he’s relishing the opportunity to form an even closer connection with audiences. “It’s like a living room,” he says of his show’s new home. “A combination between a living room and a laboratory. We get to try out stuff.” That means that fans can expect to hear familiar Santana hits, from 1960s and ’70s classic-rock staples like “Evil Ways,” “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman” to chart-toppers like “Smooth” and “Maria Maria” from Santana’s late-’90s career resurgence, but it also means that the composition of the show changes every night to allow for improvisation and experimentation.
Or, as Santana explains it: “We basically feel like if we were cooking, the songs are the dishes, but the food is always fresh and new and has a lot of love. There’s a special commitment to investing integrity and dignity and passion into each note, so that each song feels completely new, totally familiar, and it doesn’t feel stale or dead.” It’s a task that Santana takes very seriously, to deliver each show with the same feeling of transcendence, to provide more for the audience than just a rock concert.
There are plenty of long stretches for Santana and his band members to jam, to try out new material and to each take a solo spotlight. Obviously, Santana himself is known for his stellar guitar work, but he’s adamant that the performance is a showcase for every member of the band, not just himself: “I tell them, ‘You better play your ass off. You better make the ugliest face you got, and give me the prettiest note, like Stevie Ray Vaughan. I don’t pay you to be a maître d’ holding a napkin for me and just standing there and looking stupid. I pay you to go through it and give me the best beauty, anger, pain, passion.’”
That openness to others carries over into all aspects of Santana’s life. He’s lived in Las Vegas for a little less than three years now, and he sees it as a wonderful place, one that he wants to share with the world. “I think that we should ask 60 Minutes and people like that—you need to do a whole piece just on how nice people are in Las Vegas,” he says, “how many people wake up to be of service in Las Vegas to other human beings.” Count Carlos Santana as one of them.