The camera operator at Sunday’s Santana show at the Spokane Arena knew what the audience wanted.
Throughout the evening, close-ups of Carlos Santana’s hands were displayed on the big screen, with many in the crowd no doubt enjoying the peek behind the curtain as to how the legendary guitarist makes the instrument sing like no one else can.
And though he did speak to the crowd a few times throughout the almost three-hour concert, part of the band’s “Divination” tour, for the most part, Santana let his hands do the talking.
The band began the show with the song that arguably launched its career, “Soul Sacrifice,” accompanied by footage of the band’s performance of the song at Woodstock.
The group followed that up with “Jin-go-lo-ba,” also called “Jingo,” a cover of the song of the same name by Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, and “Evil Ways.” All three songs appeared on the band’s self-titled debut album.
After performing “A Love Supreme,” a cover of John Coltrane’s “Acknowledgment,” Santana addressed the crowd for the first time.
“Today is March 4,” the guitarist said. “This will be a good day to march forth from fear and doubt, march forth from blame and guilt, march forth from who you aren’t to who you are … You are significant, meaningful, a beam of light … There’s too much fear in the country. We need your light to change fear.”
Santana filled the set list with fan favorites like “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va,” the Grammy award-winning “Maria Maria,” the Latin Grammy award-winning “Corazón Espinado,” “Foo Foo” and, as part of the encore, “Smooth.”
The band also threw another cover – Swamp Dogg’s “Total Destruction to Your Mind” – into the mix.
“ ‘Sitting on a cornflake/Riding on a roller skate,’ ” Santana said, reciting the song’s opening lyrics. “This cat was really forward-thinking.”
But the band also reached back through its 52-year career and pulled out a few deeper cuts, like “Saja/Right On,” from 1992’s “Milago,” which featured an incredible performance from singer/trombonist Ray Greene on lead vocals, and “Incident at Neshabur,” from 1970’s “Abraxas,” which closed the main portion of the show.
Each member of the band – Santana, bassist Benny Rietveld, percussionists Karl Perazzo and Paoli Meijías, vocalists Greene and Andy Vargas, keyboardist David Mathews, guitarist Tommy Anthony and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana – received a turn in the spotlight during the show, but the encore belonged to Blackman Santana, the guitarist’s wife.
Her lengthy solo wasn’t nearly long enough, as I could have watched her hold court over her drum set all night.
The rest of the band then returned to the stage and performed “Smooth,” which earned Santana the Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals Grammys in 2000.
Santana then introduced the band, and after snippets of the Police’s “Roxanne” from Anthony and James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” from Greene, the band ended the show with “Love, Peace and Happiness,” from “Power of Peace,” a collaborative album from Santana and the Isley Brothers that was released last year.
Though Santana, the guitarist, has been the only constant in Santana since the band’s formation in 1966, the band performed like a well-oiled machine. And, they never made it seem like they were just going through the motions.
After more than 50 years, dozens of albums and numerous lineup changes, Santana – the man and the band – is still a force to be reckoned with.