Shape Shifter

Carlos Santana is ready for another residency. Will his audience keep up?

His recent residency at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel did well. It was slated to run for two years, but because of an increase in ticket sales, Carlos Santana received a six-month extension. Impressive, considering the venue holds more than 3,000 people.

But for the 10-time Grammy award-winning guitar god, the sign of success came from an unlikely place. “The greatest compliment that I got was from cab drivers, ’cause the cab drivers a lot of the times don’t know it’s me,” Santana says. “They’ll go, ‘Man, have you heard about Santana? I heard he was tearing it up. I heard that it’s different than anything else.’” Santana garnered all that praise with a fan-friendly greatest-hits playlist and an elaborate set with a large video screen. But with an upcoming two-year residency at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay, can the second time be a charm? Depends on how you look at it. Santana promises something different this time round, which is a good thing for repeat customers who want more than the same old set list.

“I’m not predictable or boring. I like to change things all the time. I like discovering,” Santana says. “I want to connect the principles and ideals of the ’60s through music so that the music of Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, John Lennon and Bob Dylan [can] be alive today.” And different his show will be. Beginning in May, the 64-year-old legend will perform An Intimate Evening With Santana: Greatest Hits Live—Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow. “Intimate” seems to be the key word. He’s trading The Joint’s concert hall feel for the 1,200-seat “club vibe” of the House of Blues.

“We’re gonna add some additional table seating to make it more of a club feel—so some tables, candles, tablecloths—a nice intimate environment,” House of Blues Entertainment CEO Ron Bension says. Plus, a brand-new sound system, video and lighting package will be installed.

With the recent addition of a younger generation of Las Vegas residencies, such as Shania Twain at Caesars Palace, Mötley Crüe at The Joint and Cee Lo Green at Planet Hollywood, will Santana have any trouble keeping up with the times?

Bension doesn’t think so. “This particular artist lends himself to legacy performances,” he says. “Carlos has been around forever, and his music is still relevant today. There are very few artists that can pull this off. You’ve gotta have staying power.” Santana seems less interested in appealing to any one demographic than he is in transcending them. “I utilize what I learned from African music and blues music to penetrate the heart of the listener—male or female,” he says. “You gotta let the Holy Ghost hit the umbilical cord of the listener, and this comes from Africa—the name of which is call and answer. That’s the difference between a live show and not-such-a-live-show.”

Santana has stayed current over the years with his frequent work with popular artists. His 1999 album, Supernatural, which garnered him eight Grammys, featured memorable collaborations with artists such as Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas on “Smooth,” the rock band Everlast for “Put Your Lights On,” and Wyclef Jean on the catchy track “Maria Maria” (all of which will likely be played during the residency). Another unforgettable union was Santana and R&B singer/songwriter Lauryn Hill on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. “It would be nice to bring her again and take it to the next level,” Santana says about potential upcoming guest appearances at his shows.

And as for who he’d like to work with in the future, the man’s got a stellar lineup. “I like Bruno Mars—I got a song or two for him—and Andrea Bocelli, Anthony Hamilton,” Santana says. “I miss old-school singers who don’t sing to themselves in the mirror but brothers who really have that Otis Redding and O.V. Wright [voice]. That stuff that is on the other side of the tracks that even black men are afraid to go. That’s the music that doesn’t scare me.” (A tip for fans hoping to catch guest appearances: Buy tickets for a weekend when Santana’s favorite performers are scheduled to be in town.)

With plans for more albums (he’s releasing an instrumental titled Shape Shifter in May) and no signs of slowing down, Santana says his family doesn’t try to curtail his busy schedule. “If anything, I think they are learning to keep up,” he says. Of course, it probably helps that Santana is married to his drummer, Cindy Blackman.

And since residencies are all the rage, maybe some of these younger acts should take a page out of Santana’s well-written notebook. But that’s only if they can “keep up,” Santana says. “Where I am today, I have more energy, more courage and more get up and go drive.”