The Tribeca Festival premiered Carlos, a documentary film about Carlos Santana, to the Beacon Theatre on June 17. The guitarist himself and his band, Santana, performed a 50-minute set immediately after the screening. The evening rocked.
Carlos, directed by Rudy Valdez, will have its national release in the fall. Much of the biopic has Santana telling his own story, interspersed with archival performances and comments from family members and colleagues. Using previously-unseen footage, the film follows the guitarist’s rise from the barrio in Mexico to Woodstock and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The narrative also reveals the spirit of the man behind the music.
Valdez and Santana introduced the film by thanking many people who made the story possible. Santana particularly thanked the late concert promoter Bill Graham, who championed Santana’s career from the very beginning. He also thanked Clive Davis, the 91-year-old industry mogul who revived Santana’s popularity in 2000.
“I’m thankful for so many people, especially Bill Graham and Clive Davis,” the 75-year-old rocker said from the stage. “Both of them invested in me, emotionally and financially, and because of them I was able to walk through a big door, which was Woodstock and Supernatural.”
As the film concluded to audience cheers, the screen lifted, the curtain opened, and Santana and his self-named band ripped into “Soul Sacrifice,” one of Santana’s earliest compositions, legendary as Santana’s show closer at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969. For 50 minutes, Santana and band played Latin, jazz, and pop rockers, with almost no pauses between songs. Santana himself played the largest part in the big sound with his guitar licks. As band director, he also managed the interplay of the other musicians – vocalists Andy Vargas and Ray Greene, guitarist Tommy Anthony, bassist Benny Rietveld, keyboardist David K Mathews, and percussionists Karl Perazzo, Paoli Mejías, and Cindy Blackman Santana.
The concert opened with songs made familiar by early Santana, from “Soul Sacrifice” to a series of cover songs that Santana re-invented five decades ago – “Jingo,” “Evil Ways” (with a snippet of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”), “Black Magic Woman,” “Gypsy Woman,” and “Oye Como Va.” Andy Vargas and Ray Greene traded lead vocals on several songs, as Santana does not sing except in the background. The performance was not centered on vocals, however, as the musicians capably took extended flights on every song. The enthusiastic audience remained standing and dancing through all the jams. Because of the nature of the event, the performance was abbreviated and, within the hour, Santana capped the night with “Smooth.”
Late in the show, Santana and his wife, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, were presented with two bouquets of white roses. The guitarist demurred, telling the audience that “these are for Clive.” He then presented them to Davis in the audience.