The only thing missing last night at The Sydney Entertainment Centre, for Carlos Santana and Steve Miller Band’s shared bill, was much longer hair on the audience, the smell of marijuana smoke, and dancing in the aisles.
This excellent combination of two stellar guitarists who survived the sixties and still operating in top form today was a perfect match and the nearly sold out venue proved that.
Steve Miller has been playing since he was about 12, but of course the majority of the planet know him for his uber pop masterpieces from his albums The Joker, Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams.
Over half of his set list was taken from these albums, with some older chestnuts thrown in to keep it from being just a classic rock radio hit fest. Steve Miller Band kicked off with “Jungle Love” and “Take The Money And Run” which were true to their recorded live versions – wrapped in that Middle American rock and roll sound that he is famous for.
The blues were not far away and his version of Bobby Bland’s “Further On Up The Road” was spot on and a joy to hear. On the basis of his latest album, Bingo!, Miller could just do a blues gig and people would be surprised at how accomplished he is!
Sonny Charles, an old time rocker who sang in a band called The Checkmates 45 years ago was a pleasure to behold in the band and adds a nice visual touch with his non-stop dancing and vocal presence.
The gathering of Miller’s odd song names followed with “Abracadabra”, “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma”, and “Kow Kow Calculator”. Along with that grouping, there were true oldies, “Livin’ In The USA”, an acoustic “Gangster Of Love”, and “Space Cowboy”. These were golden moments.
The hits kept coming with “Fly Like An Eagle”, “Jet Airliner” and “Keep On Rockin’”, which gave the chance for the band to add suitable harmonies to the 70 year old Miller’s still very intact vocal talent. No Steve Miller Band show is complete without a version of “The Joker” where everyone got to sing along pompetously as Miller’s time quickly came to a close.
Clocking in at 65, Carlos Santana is a youngster in comparison to Miller. Although not known as a blues player, his Latin flavoured fusion of rock and roll and jazzy pop is coloured by his love of the blues.
Lengthy solos were to be a huge part of proceedings, on display from the electrifying “Toussaint L’Overture”. Although there was no Neil Schon to join him on guitar tonight, the funky keyboard grooves of David Matthews were superb here and throughout the gig.
Santana proved over and over again that his singular ability to take you to outer space with his solos is an achievement few can lay claim to.
The Peter Green song, owned by Santana now, “Black Magic Woman”, exhibited why he is in the top ranking guitarists of all time. His interplay with the keyboards and the percussion majesty of Raul Rekow and Karl Perrazo simply elevated the audience from their seats to dancing mode.
This was early in the evening and the vocalists Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay were also getting a chance to shine. This song then skated into the magical cover of Tito Punete’s “ Oye Como Va” which proved to be one of the top highlights of the set.
“Maria, Maria”, also gave Vargas and Lindsay a chance to move into more urban vocal territory. The other duo that was given quite a bit of airtime on stage was the horn section comprised of Jeff Cressman on trombone and Bill Ortiz on trumpet. Latin music like this cannot live without good horn playing and the pair deserved a standing ovation of their own.
Santana did take some time throughout the night to chat to the audience, and comes across as a lovely, slightly spiritual, acid rattled hippie. Whether he was telling tales about his love for his mother or taking ‘trips’ back in the day (and intimating he did still take these little journeys once in a while); it was very humorous, even if at times he was sort of stunned at what he was revealing.
The love in the room for the man was obvious and the music overpowered any slight hesitations in his rapping.
Steve Miller was brought out for an extended version of The Doors classic “Break On Through” then jammed with Santana on “Trinity”.
Seeing these two legends play together was an emotional moment and really took people back; though they both had a difficult time ending the jam, it was something that most of the audience will cherish forever.
“Sexy/Jingo” moved the majority of the seated to their feet and as that morphed into “Smooth”, the Entertainment Center was rollicking. The fiery encore that was started with an abbreviated rain chant from Woodstock (and some footage from that well known concert) had everyone clapping.
“Soul Sacrifice/Bridegroom” closed the night out with the entire crowd up and moving. After that a white dove flew across the video screens, the houselights came up, and that was it.
The crowd hesitated, thinking more was coming, but the dream was over and everyone had to head back to the 21st Century.