As part of a plethora of Bluesfest sideshows sweeping across the country this week, Woodstock alumni Carlos Santana (and his faultlessly enigmatic backing band) took over Sydney's Qudos Bank Arena, with the support of rock staples The Doobie Brothers. Over a century of touring experience between the two acts, Sydney was in for a veteran night of live music.
Opening the show to a respectably sized audience were Californian legends The Doobie Brothers. Hitting the stage with 1972 hit "Jesus Is Just Alright", the septet took Sydney rockin' down the highway with over an hour of hits. With four guitars playing in precision-perfect timing, you could argue that the "Black Water" rockers have gotten better with age. Despite being quite static on stage, the band had perfect harmonies and undeniable charisma on stage. There were some amazing saxophone solos thrown in, too – most notably during "Eyes Of Silver".
Though their performance was tight and buttery smooth, The Doobie Brothers failed to properly gear up the crowd – perhaps they would have been better suited to a smaller and more intimate venue in a headline role, as opposed to their opening act status tonight. It was clear that the majority of the crowd was there for Santana, and the crossover in fanbases may not have been as large as anticipated. This included some who unashamedly admitted they were there solely for The Doobie Brothers, and left for an early start home as soon as their set finished.
To thunderous applause emerged the enigmatic Carlos Santana, and within seconds, the entire venue was off its collective feet. Where The Doobie Brothers were technically proficient, Santana evoked an intense energy in the room that his comrades lacked, the crowd hooked from that first wailing guitar line. With up to ten musicians on stage at any one time, Santana's set was largely heavy on percussion, guitar solos riddled throughout melding the songs into one continuous set.
Carlos himself didn't have much to say, but when he did talk, his meaning was clear. After calling out a heckler with a simple, “What you say mate? I don't speak kangaroo,” he simply stated, “We are with Bob Marley and we are with John Lennon and we imagine one love, God bless you,” before launching into the next song. An inspiring mix of Western and Latin musics – with influences drawn from African beats as well – the set mixed old and new, cultures, covers and originals, throwing out an intense and magical vibe throughout the arena. The highlight of the set was a cover of Enya's "Orinoco Flow", performed in such a way that only a bonafide guitar legend like Carlos Santana could.
For some, though, the two hour-plus set proved too esoteric, with a few people leaving in the latter half of the set. This was definitely one for the diehard fans, with a few crowd pleasers thrown in in the form of "Maria, Maria", "Black Magic Woman", and – because as if he wouldn't – "Smooth".