SAN FRANCISCO — Having headlined BottleRock just last May, the return of Carlos Santana to the Bay Area at Chase Center on Tuesday wasn’t a long-awaited event. It wasn’t even Santana’s debut at the new arena; that happened when he made a surprise appearance at Eric Clapton’s show in September. So all the local legendary guitarist did was put on a more concise, better articulated performance than either of those two, paid homage to his roots—geographical and musical—and had some fun with family and friend George Lopez.
“Maya Angelou said the only thing people are gonna remember is how you made them feel,” Santana said two-thirds of the way through the concert, adding that it was his goal for the night to make everyone in the room feel love.
He and his band took to the stage dressed in all white, as if coming from a Labor Day lawn party, though the bandleader quickly lost his jacket to reveal a black T-shirt. That, his snappy Panama hat and his golden Les Paul guitar distinguished him on stage. He led the band with a menacing guitar solo alongside lightning-fast percussion of the Chamber Brothers’ “Are You Ready,” which could really be said for most of the night’s material.
Most, but not all. On “Put Your Lights On,” the band’s rhythm guitarist sang the lead originally recorded by Everlast while Santana wove in and out on his electric guitar, treating the ballad’s melody like an obstacle course. As is customary, the bandleader didn’t do any singing, letting a duo of multi-instrumentalists handle the vocals; one at a time or together. On Jin-go-lo-ba, a Babatunde Olatunji cover, Santana stayed in the back of the mix, letting the percussionists shine with arrhythmic beats until a piercing solo a third of the way in. That song bled into “Evil Ways” and a cover of John Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement,” from A Love Supreme, both fan favorites.
That section of show highlighted what made this performance stronger that the one from May. While the song list wasn’t terribly different, the way the songs were ordered together created a more cohesive flow. Additionally, Santana himself seemed more ready, not just in presentation (at BottleRock, he looked like he’d rolled out of bed, wearing sweats), but in message. Between songs, he spoke in absolutes rather than metaphors. And the show’s production was more interesting, too. Early on, one song was preceded by a touching video of Bill Graham introducing a Santana show from many moons ago.
Later in the show, Santana spoke about how he hopes to create an annual tradition where his band and WAR, the night’s openers, could play together in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles, to “create harmony between black, brown and white.” That speech led into a cover of Otis Redding’s “Sitting by the Dock of the Bay,” with members of WAR. The song came with an accompanying video of popular spots in San Francisco including Chinatown, the Hyde Street cable car, the Ferry Building and Lombard Street. That song was intermixed with WAR’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” which WAR had already played during its own set, but no one seemed to mind.
Elsewhere, Santana added short electric bursts of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin'” as part of other songs. “Black Magic Woman,” for example, was preceded by a snippet of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” before rolling into “Oye Como Va.”
“From the Mission to Haight Ashbury, from Bill Graham to Jerry Garcia. From Miles Davis to Clyde Davis—every morning before my feet hit the ground, I say gratitude,” Santana said of the places and people who have helped him along the way. He then mentioned that both Oakland Mayer Libby Schaaf and San Francisco Mayor London Breed were in the house and noted the need to keep improving the lives of people here.
Another unexpected highlight came when Santana’s brother Jorge Santana—also wearing a black shirt—joined the band to play guitar on “Suavecito,” a hit song from the ’70s written by his band Malo. Carlos Santana stood in a back corner of the stage playing a woodblock and cheering his brother on.
Blistering Spanish language rocker “Corazón Espinado” rolled into “Maria Maria,” after which Santana invited comedian-actor George Lopez (who also started the show) back onstage. Wearing a woven wide-brimmed hat and shades, Lopez spoke about how “everyone is welcome in San Francisco” before cracking a couple of jokes.
“If you build a wall, you better build it in one day because you can’t leave those materials sitting around overnight,” he said.
On his way out Lopez kissed Santana with affection.
From there, the band stepped on the gas, led by a thundering minutes-long drum solo by Cindy Blackman and including a few more tropical brassy tunes and crowd pleaser “Smooth.”
WAR may have originated in Southern California, but the septet fit perfectly alongside Santana, blending rock, jazz, funk and Latin music over the course of its 40-minute set. Leroy Jordan, the lone remaining member of the band that got its start in ’69, led his bandmates through most of the band’s hits like “Low Rider”—”A lot of people don’t know we write this song!”— and “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” with the band members taking turns singing lead.
The set included “The Cisco Kid,” with knowledgeable early arrivers singing along, and “Get Down.”
“We were called Eric Burden and the War Band; the first time we played this song was at the Fillmore West,” Jordan said as an introduction for early tune “Spill the Wine.”