Carlos Santana & Los Lonely Boys
Story by Andy Argyrakis (with John Argyrakis)It's often referred to as the biggest music festival in entire world, and come 2005, Milwaukee's Summerfest is still living up to its reputation. Out of the expansive schedule that's already in full swing, Sunday night was amongst the torch bearing days when it came to talent, spanning a head-spinning spectrum of styles. From Marcus Amphitheater headliner act Santana, to its Latin tinged openers Los Lonely Boys and side stage attractions like Steve Winwood and Lucinda Williams, there was truly something for everyone and loads of star power on the grounds.
Photos by Andy Argyrakis
Of course the main event was the most crowded, so much that no free wristbands were given out for lawn seating as is accustomed on many show days. Maybe that was because crowds were selling in anticipation of Independence Day, though it's safe to say the leading attraction accounted for much of the swell. Even after three solid decades in the business, Carlos Santana and his eponymous band know what it takes to entertain, and as the venue ballooned with sun burnt fans, he cooled everyone off with those legendary guitar riffs and signature facial grimaces in between chord progressions.
The band was best when sticking to its greatest hits, a lengthy list perhaps most noticeably characterized by the power trio "Jingo," "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va." The first two resounded with their dual ethnic shuffle, spurts of bongo banging and deep bellied vocals, while the latter scooted with splashes of salsa, mounds of maracas and Carlos' devilish delivery. Newer material off 1999's comeback album Supernatural and its follow-up Shaman were also appealing, but less enthralling than the aforementioned. Though the showmanship and players' abilities were second to none, session singers took the place of the original all-star cast on certain occasions, such as a substation for Everlast during "Put Your Lights On." Santana was much better off sticking to recent works where he was the central focus, such as the explosive "Africa Bamba" and "Foo Foo."
Though those selections were a bit anti-climatic compared to the singles, dedicated Santana fans were at least able to catch wind of Santana's forthcoming studio album All That I Am. The project returns to the trend of collaborative offerings and is slated to include Mary J. Blige, Big Boi and Los Lonely Boys (the night's opening act). In one sense its exciting to see Carlos collaborate with some of the biggest names in the modern business, although purists can justifiably fear that this new record will once again relegate its primary star to seeming like a guest on his own album! Even though that may be the case, he can still play just like back in the day and didn't disappoint the adoring masses in Milwaukee.
As for Los Lonely Boys' slot, it was culled mostly from its recently released CD Live at the Fillmore. Ever since the guys landed the smash single "Heaven" (backed by none other than Carlos himself on stage) they've stepped up the tour schedule several notches and considerably tightened up their Tex-Mex blend. Unlike the group's self-titled debut album that has its moments of sterility and predictability, the concert climate is relatively impulsive and fiery. The gang delivered with more cohesiveness than last fall's trip through the Midwest (which included a spot at the Vic Theatre) and seemed to exude more confidence.
Summerfest's other bona-fide superstars Steve Winwood and Lucinda Williams also possessed cool, calm and collective stances throughout separate, jam-packed sets. Like Santana, Winwood has been on the road for most of his life, starting as a mere teenager fronting the Spencer Davis Group. Of course, time in Traffic came next, followed by a famous solo career, which most recently was greeted by the 2003 offering About Time. The disc follows in the direction of his last band's epic, psychedelic rock overtones, with much of the material coming across with extended improvisation. Winwood bravely stuck to the artistry of that project and the Traffic days while skipping out on many of his gigantic commercial breakthroughs. Though this was admirable and more suited to the set list, offering skimpy glimpses of that era was a likely let down for casual followers. Williams' also achieved excellence by highlighting her new Lost Highway project, coincidentally titled Live At the Fillmore (featured extensively at www.lucindawilliams.com ). Her gravely vocals, fervent strums, and most importantly, remarkable songwriting abilities, carried such a heavy hand that they entranced her most devoted and even enticed throngs of passersby on their way for another beer.
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