Concert review: Steve Miller Band and Santana, Vector Arena

By Graham Reid

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Steve Miller and Santana performed at Vector Arena. Photo / Supplied
Steve Miller and Santana performed at Vector Arena. Photo / Supplied

With the 60s generation of rock fans now at Gold Card age, this concert perhaps flagged what we might expect in the future: Steve Miller with his excellent band - which included the great Spector-era soul singer Sonny Charles - started just after 7pm. Drivetime has become rock's equivalent of the early bird special.

Not that any concessions to age were made by guitarist Carlos Santana whose band included two horn players, two percussionists and a drummer (the jazz giant Dennis Chambers who started his career in Parliament/Funkadelic) to drive things along.
Theirs was thrilling, high density Afro-Latin flavoured jazz-rock (with nods to hip-hop) and Santana conducted like an old-school band leader, nodding to those he wanted to take solos. At 65, Santana has kept the faith while his peers have passed on (Hendrix), toned down (Jeff Beck) or only play intermittently (Jimmy Page). Eric Clapton's new album is called Old Sock.

As he hammered the wah-wah, delivered sheetmetal shredding, pulled out that signature sustain on classic songs (Black Magic Woman, Oye Como Va, Maria Maria and others) and pushed the energy and volume levels way up, Santana seemed determined to keep alive the spirit of that seminal Woodstock appearance which made his reputation - images of which, and his other younger selves, flashed on the screen behind him during Oye Como Va. His incendiary performance withstood the comparison and he reminded us, lest we forget, rock music was forged in the fire and sometimes - as he repeatedly proved - needs to be played punishingly loud for the full effect. Yet he also found space for romance as when he dropped in a lovely rendition of the late 50s ballad It's All in the Game.

Whether it was music from his back-catalogue, nods to classic soul (the Temptations' Standing on Shaky Ground) or Afro-rock (Manu Dibango's Soul Makossa worked in), Santana and his band delivered with breathless power and passion.

Yes, there was a five minute-plus drum solo by Santana's wife, but it came after a muscular workout from bassist Benny Rietveld (last seen here with Miles Davis in 88) and she is Cindy Blackman who earned her stripes with serious jazz players and plays in Lenny Kravitz's band.

Guitarist Miller - whose forearms and hands have veins like power cables - opened the night with a terrific set which fired off smoothly honed hits (the subtle Fly Like an Eagle showing masterful sustain and delay on the quicksilver solo), tough rock (Jet Airliner), elements of blues, an acoustic set which included a reworked Gangster of Love and The Window, and allowed the great Charles to do some soul-shuffle dance moves.

As a double bill this was exceptional, and when Miller joined Santana's band at the end for some leathery blues (Otis Rush's All Your Love, a homage to John Lee Hooker) it rounded out a night that had started early but certainly wasn't conceding an inch to age. Quite extraordinary.

- NZ Herald

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