Santana IV Live At The House Of Blues Las Vegas (CD/DVD)

Santana

Eagle Vision, 2016

http://www.santana.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/15/2016

Santana IV accomplished what was for many years just an idle fantasy—reassembling the surviving members of the lineup that made two of Santana’s very best albums, Abraxas (1970) and Santana III (1971). Said lineup features Gregg Rolie (keys & lead vocals) and Neal Schon (guitar), who would soon depart to form Journey, as well as Michael Shrieve (drums) and Michael Carabello (congas & percussion), along with Carlos Santana himself on lead guitar and vocals. The present-day incarnation of this lineup is rounded out by Karl Perazzo (timbales, percussion & vocals), Benny Rietveld (bass), and David K. Matthews (keys).

The odd thing about the live show captured here—besides the fact that it’s the only live show this stellar lineup has played to date—is that it happened before Santana IV was even released. The audience must have been a little disoriented, then, hearting a track list that’s evenly split between not-yet-released tunes from the new album and classic cuts from Santana (1969), Abraxas, and Santana III—in other words, a lot of very familiar music mixed in with a lot of completely unfamiliar music.

Timing issues aside, the setlist here is pretty fantastic. And rather than suffering by contrast, putting energetic new songs like “Anything You Want To Go” and “Choo Choo / All Aboard” up against classic numbers like “Everybody’s Everything” and “Oye Como Va” only serves to underscore how seamlessly this lineup picked up right where it left off in 1972, melding Latin, soul, jazz and rock elements into its own uniquely tasty—and fiery—musical gumbo.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There are concessions to age; back in the day, the percussion section workout “Soul Sacrifice” would have appeared mid-set or as an encore, rather than leading off as it does here. But these guys are all complete pros with chops miraculously intact. The biggest adjustment the band has to make is to Schon’s role. The driving force behind the reunion, Schon was the young apprentice when he left, but returns a veteran bandleader with four decades of gained knowledge and pent-up desire to play the music of his roots again—and maybe prove a thing or two to his old boss.

It’s clear this fresh dynamic fires up both men at times, as when they turn “Nobody To Depend On” into a ferocious, gun-slinging guitar duel that’s a blast to watch. A similar fraternal-competition dynamic also shows up in new tunes like the moody “Leave Me Alone” and the psychedelic blues-rock jam “Caminando,” while “Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen” and “Oye Como Va” find the pair trading off on the iconic solos Carlos created for the originals. At other times, Schon makes himself scarce in deference to the maestro; in addition to playing a very quiet rhythm guitar on a number of the older tunes, he doesn’t even come on stage until midway through the third song (“Evil Ways”) and later disappears again so that Carlos can tackle “Samba Pa Ti” on his own.

The other striking thing this album accomplishes is to remind you how much better Gregg Rolie is suited for this sort of passionate Latin-soul-rock hybrid than for the sort of slick, commercial AOR that Journey evolved into during the Steve Perry years. This feels like the music he was always meant to make, and he is on fire throughout, singing and playing better than ever.

The encore section features very special guest and original soul man Ronald Isley on a pair of tasty, soulful “peace and love” numbers he sang on Santana IV, “Love Makes The World Go Round” and “Freedom In Your Mind.” The night closes out with a passionate run through the classic Santana jam “Toussaint L’Ouverture,” featuring scorching solos from Rolie, Perazzo, Schon, and of course Santana himself.

After a couple of well-spent hours with this DVD (accompanied by a two-CD album with identical tracklist), the only question remaining is, why didn’t this reunited lineup mount a full tour? All evidence suggests Schon would have worked around Journey’s schedule to make it happen. No one on the outside knows for sure, of course, but the scuttlebutt—backed up in subtle ways throughout this album—is that Carlos gets itchy pretty quickly any time the spotlight isn’t fully on him. Regardless, this set again renews the case for the Abraxas / Santana III band as one of the most dynamic and explosive musical units in rock history.

Rating: A-

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