The difference between Santana before and Santana now is not necessarily what you see or hear, but how you feel.
And what you feel at Santana’s new show at House of Blues at Mandalay Bay is a bit more of a spiritual boost, a little more adrenaline, powered by what feels like a higher-volume show than what he produced for two years at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Today, it is Club Carlos in Las Vegas.
The performances have been dubbed "An Intimate Evening With Santana: Greatest Hits Live -- Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow.” The emphasis is on "intimacy." Even with the addition of a few tables placed on either side of the club’s dance floor, the House of Blues is a more jammed experience than the Joint, no question. There is more jostling for position if you’re standing in the general-admission area on the floor or near the bar ringing the stage. Santana and his band are closer, you can physically feel the strength of the performance in a way you did not at the Joint.
The Joint felt like a small arena for Santana’s shows, as 3,000 fans were issued assigned seats. House of Blues feels like a big club, with a capacity of a little more than 1,200 and several hundred GA tickets on sale (which start at $89 apiece, vaulting to $155 for table seating). There are benefits to either venue, two of the best in the city. The Joint’s increased size allowed for a vastly larger stage show for Santana.
One of the more memorable moments in Santana’s residency at the Hard Rock Hotel was the night he invited the Andre Agassi Preparatory Drum Line to the stage, more than a dozen teenagers pounding away as Santana’s band happily played behind the thunderous percussion. That crew would have been pushed together like a line of dominoes at Wednesday night’s opening performance at House of Blues (having written that, I feel those at Agassi Prep will set about proving me wrong).
A new video package has been installed at House of Blues, too. But where the Joint’s vast LED screen added dazzling psychedelic imagery and powerful footage of Santana’s career (especially his iconic performance at Woodstock), it seems almost an unnecessary component to the new shows at HOB. One video panel hangs from the back of the stage, and other smaller monitors are set left and right and on pillars near the bar.
But Santana himself is so close to the audience, such video effects can be ignored. At one point, I wanted to reach out and give a tug at the trombone slide, but I was too busy doin’ the boogie.
Musically, the show closely mirrors what Santana has performed in Vegas already at the Joint. His famous songs are typically laden with lengthy solos (mostly his own dazzling guitar work). “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” and “Smooth” (a particularly strong, irresistible sing-along) are stretched beyond their radio-play length. And, as always, Santana can be relied upon for his mid-song monologues as he intones of peace, love and happiness. He spoke whimsically of “moving forward,” invoking the new campaign slogan of President Obama, whom he strongly supports. He also said, “Marijuana, I want to make love to you!” Obviously, his position on legalization of pot has not changed.
Santana is committed to 80 shows over two years at House of Blues, 31 this year with nine others to fill the balance of 40 to be announced in the coming months. Even with the reduced seating capacity, it’s a lot of tickets to move. But really, this is just one long jam, the way Carlos Santana likes it.