Review: Carlos Santana at Red Butte Garden

Guitar solos often feel like masturbation to me. I think it’s mostly fun for the person who is doing it, and not a whole lot of fun for anyone watching. And so with this music preference clearly stated, naturally, I found myself at a Carlos Santana concert last night. And perhaps not-so-naturally, I found myself having a good time.

There was no opener, and not much wait either. Santana and his band—all eight of them (three of of them on percussion alone)—hit the stage just a little after 7 p.m.. He was introduced by two handsome and enthusiastic men who carried the vocals throughout the night, shook maracas, played the tambourine and the trombone (when appropriate).

And as soon as Santana hit the stage, the jamming began. One song after another, with segues so unclear it made it difficult for me to track exactly when one song ended and another began. The world music pioneer is still blending rock, latin and afro-beats seamlessly.

Santana’s setlist covered the span of his decades-long career with everything from “Black Magic Woman,” “Evil Ways,” and “Oy Como Va” interspersed between hints of The Beatle’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” a full and rousing version of Babatunde Olatunji’s “Jingo” and most delightfully, a joyful cover of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”—which you probably know for its “Sail away, sail away, sail away” lyrics.

There was no lack of enthusiasm on the stage. Santana, who will be 70 next month, seems to still enjoy being onstage. Though he saved most of his energy for the actual playing and less for chatting with the crowd, there were a few moments of classic Santana, “This is the way I remember it,” he said of Red Butte, “Good vibes, good people, beauty, harmony,” and then at the end he added, “Is it legal here yet?”—the crowd went wild. (ed note: No, Mr. Santana, it is not legal here yet, but if you’re reading this review, these people could use your help).

After a ballad sung by one of the band’s drummers, Cindy Blackman-Santana—Mrs. Santana, for those who were wondering—the singer told the crowd, “We need air, we need water and we need romance. If you don’t make room for romance, you might as well be a cactus—all prickly and curmudgeonly.”

You see, Santana’s still full of that mystical ’60s-style peace, love and harmony, all these years later. And I think, maybe a Santana guitar solo (of which there were plenty) isn’t so much about musical masturbation after all. It’s really more like tantric sex. It lasts a really long time, the dedication to the craft is admirable and I can appreciate the technique, sure. But after two hours, I was tired and, admittedly, a little bored. 

Christie Marcy
Christie Marcy
Christie Marcy is a former managing editor at Salt Lake magazine. Though she writes about everything, she has a particular interest in arts and culture in Utah. In the summer months, you will find her at any given outdoor concert on any given night. In the winter, you will find her wishing for summer. Follow her on social media at @whynotboth.

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