In the history of rock-and-roll, there's probably never been a career rejuvenation like Carlos Santana's.
Santana, who'll turn 58 next month, is bigger than ever. He packed Merriweather Post Pavilion on Tuesday. That alone's nothing big, given how graybeard rockers make up the biggest concert attractions on the road. But what separates Santana is that many, if not most, of his current fans couldn't give a rip about his vintage tunes or his status as a Woodstock survivor. These folks came for his new stuff. They came not to rock, but to dance.
And they got what they came for.
Santana's guitar tone remains the same as when he broke out of San Francisco in the late 1960s. But, even as pricey Maryland-based luthier Paul Reed Smith has introduced a signature line of guitars in his name, Santana's solos are next to irrelevant in his band's output. His latter-day material -- including "Maria, Maria" and "Corazon Espinado" -- is all about rhythm, and has more in common with the Miami Sound Machine than his vintage stuff.
During "Smooth," the smash single from 1999 that kick-started his return to pop radio, Santana invited some youngsters onstage to shake maracas with the band. The dance party went all the way to the back of the lawn. He brought openers Los Lonely Boys (whom Santana, for the multi-linguistically challenged in the audience, continually referred to as "The Lonely Boys") out to introduce "I Don't Want to Lose Your Love," a song the Texas brother act wrote and recorded for Santana's next album.
His band's current singer, Andy Vargas, lacks the power of former vocalists Greg Rolie or Alex Ligertwood. But Vargas is young and hunky and kept things lively by flashing an assortment of watered-down hip-hop moves -- crotch grabs, air-scratching, etc. He also screamed "Santana!" or "Jump!" every few verses.
The set ended with "Black Magic Woman," a 1970 tune that reminded older audience members of the wicked power chords Santana once hit. But on this night, many fans used it as an excuse to head for the exits to beat the crush.
-- Dave McKenna