Carlos Santana has often talked about taming the inner child within as a way to connect with the soul and spirit.
On Thursday, the 71-year-old icon not only tamed, but exorcised that inner child out of 6,200 sprinkled throughout the field at Al Lang Stadium during where a soulful, epic Santana experience commemorated two anniversaries for the band.
A half-century ago, a much younger, fro-sporting, acid-enhanced Santana took the world by storm by channeling unfounded, afro-infused Latin American rock and jazz at the original Woodstock in Bethel Woods, New York. In 2019, Santana will return to New York for the festival’s 50th anniversary. Thursday night’s show at Al Lang — which kicked off a summer concert series that includes Bryan Adams and The Tedeschi Truck Band — commemorated both the ‘69 show and the release of Santana’s groundbreaking album Supernatural, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in June.
At 7:59 p.m., as a near-full moon hung above the Bay in the backdrop, Santana’s black Cadillac limo rolled in behind the stage. With his black, tangled hair falling below a white fedora, the 10-time Grammy-Award winner — dressed in a casual tie-dye shirt, jeans and bronze pair of loafers — got the crowd of mostly buttoned-up boomers on their feet until he joined his eight-piece band already in place.
With three percussionists, two vocalists and players on keys, bass and rhythm guitar at his side, Santana un-holstered his gold, signature PRS for the set’s opener “Soul Sacrifice.” The wide-eyed and phone-wielding crowd, some alum of the ‘69 performance, was treated to a front-loaded, career spanning set of hits (“Jingo,” “Evil Ways,” “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va,” “Europa”). The band — constantly dancing and co-mingling onstage, with a variety of Latin accent-instruments in hand — had people dancing in the aisles mid-set and grooving along for a Michelle Branch-less “Game of Love.”
The older crowd bounced between being seated in appreciation and being willed to their feet again in pure awe. The set didn’t quite pack the grit or dynamism of a 22-year-old Santana flailing his “electric snake” onstage, but the veteran still effortlessly showed why he’s considered one of the greatest guitarists ever.
Whether it was fingering light, feathered notes on “Black Magic Woman” or shimmying all over a fresh-as-ever “Maria Maria,” his face gave only a slight indication of effort, his eyes fluttering as his fingers masterfully plucked away on guitar strings. As acid-washed images from the original Woodstock soaked in and out of the LED-screens behind him, the Jalisco, Mexico-native seemed to be focused on enjoying the moment rather than inciting any rarified new one.
“It’s important to validate and celebrate you,” he reminded the crowd late. “As James Brown used to say: ‘Jump back and kiss yourself.’”
Thursday night’s Santana appearance would follow this mantra by giving nods to his music’s legacy, energy and its meaning to his audience.
“As an audience of Santana, we are victorious,” he added, with a hand nonchalantly pledged in the air, reminding fans to love, embrace and find happiness with their inner self.
By the looks of the gleaming and joyous faces all locked on him throughout, it looks like the Santana experience is still helping fans do just that.