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Santana, Steve Winwood at VWMC, July 7



A giant video screen above the stage announced the beginning of Santana's set, the guitarist's logo fading into the image of a lone dove flying in slow motion, then giving way to a montage of African drummers and dancers during which the band began a high-powered percussion jam. Santana's band was comprised of 12 musicians, including a drummer and two huge percussion stations, all on risers.

The giant screen helped the crowd to appreciate Santana's nimble finger work, not to mention his ability to direct every ebb and flow of a huge band via his guitar. When his band tackled his latter-day hits, the star vocal power from studio recordings was not missed, with two lead vocalists sharing duties admirably. One of the best moments came during the close of mega-hit "Smooth," when a transition to a mambo mash-up brought the already-standing crowd over the edge.

Of course, Santana had a few messages to give us about life and love, and he delivered political commentary that seemed to over-simplify complex issues (such as a proposal to legalize marijuana with the proceeds going towards education). But his heart was in the right place, and that heart, even more than his immense talent, might be why his career is still going as strong as ever.

Steve Winwood delivered a strong performance as opening act for Santana. The hearty cheers and ovations he received were of the sort usually reserved for the headliner. It was not until he started playing hit after hit that the full scope of his musical influence became clear to this reviewer. Crowded near the front of the stage (most of which was taken up by Santana's stage plot), the instrumentation consisted of organ, guitar, percussion, drums and sax, with the lack of bass guitar depriving the band of some power. Winwood pulled off his biggest hits in full fashion, including set highlight "Gimme Some Lovin."


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