Bowie. Prince. Petty. Cornell. Frey. Aretha. Chuck. Fats. Dr. John….To counter and ease our mourning over the musical legends that have left us (always too soon, no matter their chronological age) these past few years, our best spiritual and emotional response is to appreciate and cling ever-tighter to the greats still with us.
The blazing, multi-faceted nearly four-hour Santana/Doobie Brothers bill at the Hollywood Bowl June 24 was a potent reminder to count our blessings, because those musicians who created the soundtrack to our early lives are still, to draw from their classic titles, “Rockin’ Down the Highway” and creating transcendent, supernatural high octane musical experiences for us to cherish in the present.
Closing in on 72, legendary guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Carlos Santana has never been more prolific. His band’s 2019 output includes the Narada Michael Walden EP In Search of Mona Lisa, followed in early June by the Rick Rubin-produced Africa Speaks, their 25th studio album. Yet Santana’s intention in calling his summer tour Supernatural Now was to mark two key anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of the band’s 30-million selling, eight-time Grammy winning Supernatural album and a remarkable 50 years since the guitarist and his initial lineup blew up the stage at Woodstock shortly after releasing their self-titled debut album.
Santana effectively brought everything full circle, tying distant but thrilling past to vibrant present by launching their set with the booming Africanized, rock and jazz fired percussive energy of their Woodstock classic “Soul Sacrifice.” The musical blaze was backed with video images of colorful, celebratory scenes of inhabitants of an African village, creating a trippy, quick cut multi-media experience.
After cleverly fusing two early classics with his mashup of “A Love Supreme” (originally recorded with Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist John McLaughlin) and a simmering, sensual romp through the Latin blues of “Evil Ways” (a dynamic showcase for vocalists Andy Vargas and Ray Greene), Santana got down to (or reached up for) Supernatural business with a sizzling, horn-fired, tribal chant driven romp through the album’s opening cut “Da Le Yaleo.”
Though the band infused the rest of the 19 song set with a batch of core gems from the classic album that rang in the 2000s with a soulful, culturally pervasive Latin fire, Santana wisely didn’t reference them as set apart by time from any other 70’s classic, hits from the 2000s or brand new tunes. They added a hipster rap to the white-hot classic rocker “Hope You’re Feeling Better,” then segued effortlessly into the “Breaking Down the Door,” a buoyant and brassy tribal chant-along from Africa Speaks as if they were familiar neighbors, not raucous jams penned and recorded nearly five decades apart.
Likewise, Santana romped seamlessly from the freewheeling, everybody on your feet roll through “Oye Como Va” into the moody, fuzzy guitar rock/soul vibe of “Love of My Life” and the infectious pop/rocker “The Game of Love” as if each song was simply a brilliant point on a groove intensive continuum of “endless now.”
Another perfect pairing of this order was artfully sandwiching the new, sparsely arranged romance “In Search of Mona Lisa” between the throbbing spiritual plea anthem “The Calling” (centered by a scorching guitar duet by Santana and Pat Simmons of The Doobies) and the feisty fun of “Maria Maria.” The band saved the irrepressible smash “Smooth” for the party going on during an encore that also included an intense drum solo by Cindy Blackman Santana and generous bits of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” and The Chambers’ Brothers’ “Love, Peace and Happiness.”
Santana didn’t chat much during the early portion of the show, but when he finally addressed the band’s adoring crowd, he charmed with a funky double entendre: “You make us feel so high.” A bit later, the sage who launched his career and played Woodstock in the midst of the Vietnam era offered some blunt, uplifting words for these distinctly troubled times. He said, “We’re living in a time of healing. Investing so much time in fear and stupid shit is of no value. The only thing that has value is love. Just like we need air and water, we need romance.”
Though The Doobie Brothers tucked an explosive version of the stompin’ “Takin’ It To The Streets” (with lead vocals by the band’s brilliant longtime touring bassist John Cowan) midwy into their hour plus set, the performance was a chance to experience the band in its original, pre-Michael McDonald roots rock glory.
Led by its legendary founders and alternating lead vocalists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston, the ensemble – also featuring the wild musings of keyboardist/organist Bill Payne, drummer Ed Toth, percussionist Marc Quinones and blazing jazz saxophonist Marc Russo – held court on a rousing cavalcade of instantly recognizable monster hits and some thoughtfully chosen, just as engaging album tracks that should inspire some dusting off and revisiting.
Perhaps to test the settling in audience’s attention spans, they cleverly followed the “rock duet” “Rockin’ Down the Highway” and “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While) with the jangling and bluesy “Ukiah,” the swamp funk delight “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman” and the folky then rocking, tempo and guitar shifting (acoustic to electric) “Clear as the Driven Snow” and crackling, jam band flavored “Eyes of Silver.”
After these expansive and lively stretching exercises, the Doobies delivered the big money one after another, starting with “Jesus Is Just Alright” and “Long Train Runnin’” and ending with rousing encores of “Black Water” (eliciting the audience to sing along to “I want to hear some funky Dixieland”) and “Listen to the Music.”