Reviews > Shows
Santana / Michael Franti & Spearhead in Washington
Photo by Chris Balboni
Santana/Michael Franti & Spearhead
Northern Quest Resort & Casino Outdoors
Airway Heights, WA
Generally Speaking, concerts at Casinos don’t particularly catch my interest. Too often the headliners are graceless bastardizations of classic bands, regurgitating a small repertoire of oft-forgotten hits for a crowd mostly there to relive their youthful party days. So when the news broke Santana and Michael Franti and Spearhead were playing at the Northern Quest Casino just west of Spokane WA, it was a welcome surprise to see a lineup of such credible, relevant musicians. The casino building the outdoor stage was butted up against didn’t create the most outstanding backdrop by any means, but both performers brought a display of passion and talent that paid little mind to the constraints of their surroundings.
Whatever you might think of Michael Franti’s music, his electrifying presence as an entertainer is undeniable. He expertly worked the crowd for the entirety of his short set, comprised of familiar crowd-pleasers such as “Everyone Deserves Music” and “Hello Bonjour.” The sheer enthusiasm and energy Franti and his band possessed spread through the crowd at a feverish pace, especially when Franti jumped off the stage and ran around in the audience singing “Yell Fire.” While most of the songs played were recognizable to the crowd, Franti revealed one new song, dedicated to his mother, who he brought onstage to brag about before starting the new tune. With Franti’s emphasis on crowd interaction, audience members seemed to become integrated in to the very framework of the show, outnumbering the band onstage during their last number, “Say Hey,” when Franti invited a group of kids onstage to dance.
Santana’s band brought the crowd out of their chairs with a ferocious percussion jam, slowly bringing additional members until the time came for the man himself to take his position center stage. With a white Fedora pulled low over his eyes and feet set wide apart, Santana’s fleet fingers danced around the neck of his guitar before he veered the direction of the jam into left field, orchestrating a bizarre, free-jazz dual between the horn and rhythm sections. The applause from the audience was a little hesitant afterwards, but the band didn’t miss a beat as they launched into a cover of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” off of Santana’s latest album. Near the end of the song, Santana quoted a portion the guitar melody from “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” a tip of the hat to Jimi Hendrix that would re-emerge occasionally throughout the night.
Many rockers lose a bit of their luster in older age, getting stuck in the same setlists, styles and licks and relying on the strength of their younger years to still draw large audiences. At 64, Santana shows no interest in complacency or slowing down. The band glided through a career-spanning set of latin-infused rock, fusion, and blues as Santana let loose sheets of his velvety guitar tone with a smile on his face. Some of his oldest material shined the brightest, such as “Black Magic Woman” (which included another Hendrix guitar quote, from “3rd Stone From the Sun”) and “Oyo Como Va,” featuring a blazing organ solo from keys player David Mathews. “Do you feel good?” Santana asked the crowd before stepping up to a nylon-string guitar for the acoustic intro to “Maria Maria.” “Well, you’re gonna feel better.”
Though the spotlight was thoroughly trained on Santana for the bulk of the show, he had no problem sharing it with his bandmates. Bassist Benny Rietveld and Drummer Dennis Chambers pumped out an extended drum and bass breakdown before “Jingo”, and backing guitarist Tommy Anthony led the band through a cover of The Police’s “Roxanne.” Sometimes Santana’s philosophical ramblings grew too long between songs (“You’re either happy or you’re stupid” he charged at one point) but it was worth the tradeoff of watching him caress his instrument with the finesse of a lover at one point, and shredding with incredible speed and proficiency through “Open Invitation.”
After ending the set with the hit “Smooth” off his Supernatural album, The band once again took the stage for an encore that started with an instrumental jam with classic Woodstock footage of a young Santana that somehow didn’t detract from the much older man onstage. He snuck in one last Hendrix reference during “Into the Night” ( a brief tease of “All Along the Watchtower”) and blazed through Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” before leaving the stage for good. It may not have been the same as seeing the master in ’69 at Golden Gate Park, but Santana doesn’t seem to show any washed-up signs of sentimentality in his playing. He continues to stay as passionate and relevant as ever, no matter where he’s performing.
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