By Chris M. Junior
What’s a birthday celebration without a little cake and a lot of music?
Carlos Santana was presented with the former and he passionately provided the latter during his band’s concert at The Borgata in Atlantic City, N.J., on July 20 — the second time in the last three years that the guitar great spent his birthday onstage in the Garden State.
Following an extended drum solo by Dennis Chambers, a candle-lit cake was wheeled out for the 65-year-old Santana while his band played “Happy Birthday.” And just like in 2010 at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, the musicians played some of Tower of Power’s “You’re Still a Young Man” for their boss. Wife Cindy Blackman Santana, who was the guitarist’s fiancée at the time of his 63rd birthday, reprised her 2010 role, too, appearing onstage with a bouquet of flowers.
Musically, Santana and his 10-piece backing band were in full bloom, leaning heavy on hits and album tracks from the “Santana” and “Abraxas” albums, including “Evil Ways,” “Jingo,” “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va,” while also mixing in plenty of songs from his late-1990s comeback and beyond: “Foo Foo,” “Corazon Espinado,” “Metatron” (from the latest Santana album, 2012’s “Shape Shifter”) and, of course, “Smooth.” For the elegant, excellent instrumental “Samba Pa Ti,” Santana began the song sitting down, but as his playing intensified, he was back on his feet, alternating between a stationary position, eyes closed and face full of emotion, and casually walking around the stage to stand beside the other musicians.
He may be the star, but Santana is generous when it comes to the spotlight. Like Chambers, bassist Benny Rietveld was also given an extended chance to shine, taking center stage for a solo of his own. And throughout the show, Santana was both subtle (a quick, approving nod toward Chambers after a flashy drum fill) and demonstrative (pointing at keyboardist David K. Mathews when it was his turn to play a lead) in acknowledging the band’s contributions and presence.
Santana’s tour supporting “Shape Shifter” continues tonight (July 21) with another show at The Borgata’s Event Center, followed by six co-headlining dates with The Allman Brothers Band: July 22 in Darien Lake, N.Y.; July 24 in Wantagh, N.Y.; July 25 in Holmdel, N.J.; July 27 in Saratoga, N.Y.; July 28 in Hartford, Conn.; and July 30 in Columbia, Md.