Banc of California Stadium celebrated three of the most legendary acts spanning hits from 1969 to the late 90s Saturday night including rock guitar god Santana, R&B and disco icons Earth, Wind and Fire and funk/soul band WAR.
Long Beach’s own WAR launched into “Spill The Wine” and “So”, they played their classic sing-along tune “Why Can’t We Be Friends” and finished with the saxophone and harmonica blasting for an extended version of the smash “Low Rider”.
Chicago’s Earth, Wind & Fire and their lively band looked like royalty in red and blue-hued jackets and suits with accents of purple as they launched right into “Shining Star”. The vocals shifted from Phillip Bailey to his son Phillip Bailey, Jr., as the ten musicians danced on stage during the performance, joined by a drummer and keyboardist. The show rolled on with the disco tune “Let Your Feelings Show” and was followed by killer horns and harmonies on “Mighty Mighty”, with all standing musicians kicking their legs in unison, while lots of hand percussion was added and tambourines were smashed.
The guys worked the stage like madmen on “Celebrate” and continued the momentum with the funky “Get Away”, energized by lots of percussion, a prominent bassline from Verdine White, and a gospel vibe by the end. White wagged his tongue with vigor during the guitar solo on “Saturday Nite” and on the hit song “Sing A Song” the band was grooving from side to side, while the saxophone and trumpet completely nailed their parts.
Earth, Wind & Fire impressed with their stellar version of The Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life”, with a standout guitar solo and equally amazing falsetto and harmonies on the vocals. On the ballad “Devotion”, the fans’ hands and camera phones were up. Soul favorite “That’s The Way of the World” had some of the best harmonies of the night, with Ralph Johnson joining the vocals along with Bailey Jr. and his father.
Phillip Bailey spoke briefly with the crowd and said, “For 50 years, we have been blessed to be with our fans since day one”. He introduced the original members and the rest of the band and mentioned Ralph Johnson was the original drummer. Johnson said of Bailey, “Like a fine wine, he just keeps getting better and better”. The harmonies were back for the timeless ballad “After The Love is Gone”, complemented by an incredible saxophone solo from Gary Bias.
Earth, Wind & Fire’s funk utopia “Fantasy” was wonderful, harmonious and the band moved together perfectly, while the horn section smashed, from Bias on the sax, Reggie Young on trombone and Bobby Burns on trumpet. Other notable tracks included “Boogie Wonderland”, led by other singer David Whitworth, with the horns hitting hard and the party vibes in full effect. The fans clapped and the stage lighting popped in red and white with black accents. “Let’s Groove Tonight” was outstanding again on the harmonies, with Whitworth on lead again and the gentlemen rocking again with the choreography, joined by additional vocals from Bailey Jr. and Johnson.
“September” was of course a hoot with fans’ hands up and everyone dancing, with the band members jumping at the end. Earth, Wind & Fire wrapped their set with the funky “In The Stone”.
Santana hit the stage, 10 musicians total with lead singer Carlos Santana in a cream hat and a colorful Jimi Hendrix hoodie playing the guitar intro of the Afrobeat song “Soul Sacrifice” with three percussionists smashing two hand drums and a set. Santana shook maracas while other band members handled tambourines and drummer Cindy Blackman went completely bonkers on the drums, while organist David K. Mathews and the trombonist’s solos were on fire.
Santana’s signature guitar cries took hold on an epic version of “Jingo”, with a slick Afrobeat instrumental, slaying his guitar moves in the middle of the song in a way that sounded like it was complete improvisation. Even if it wasn’t, the crowd was feeling the psychedelic vibes. The 1969 hit “Evil Ways” sounded as solid as ever with a fantastic gang vocal and Mathews taking the cake. “Black Magic Woman” was incredible with another excellent guitar opening and an incredible instrumental, with maddening guitar shrills from Santana himself. The early hits continued with Santana’s massive version of “Oye Como Va”, which sounds as much of a global Latin anthem as it always did, with excellent vocals from singers Andy Vargas and Ray Greene.
“We prayed for this night, we prayed to be with you tonight”, said Santana in addition to some other inspiring words. He gave a shout to both WAR and Earth, Wind & Fire and said, “We did a tour in 1975 with Earth, Wind & Fire and it was all about illuminating consciousness”.
A pair of covers stood out in a big way, including The Zombies’ “She’s Not There”, which brought the house down with some stellar guitar moments from Santana and some hot vocals again from Vargas and Greene. It was so well done it sounded like a Santana original, with the musicians crushing the entire rendition, under spectacular multi-colored lighting (props to the lighting designer!) The other memorable cover was The Undisputed Truth’s “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” with the singers going into soul overdrive, while the organ and bass remained steady and Santana scraped a percussion instrument.
A blend of pop songs from the new millennium and Latin tunes took hold of the last section of the show with the Michelle Branch-featured hit “The Game Of Love” with Greene taking over the lively number. “Vive La Vida (Life Is For Living)” and “Corazon Espinado” were wonderful, and really Santana should consider a Latin-only album with stars of the past and present. “Maria Maria” was a standout on vocals, guitars and drums, with both singers impressing once again and Santana’s son Salvador offering a rap verse.
Santana and the band played Latin fusion tune “Foo Foo” with exceptional trombone and lots of maraca, while the band urged the crowd to get down as smoke shot up from the stage floor. For the encore, Santana played the international hit “Smooth” (without Rob Thomas) and the band concluded with “Samba Pa Ti”. Though Santana’s show did not include any of the numerous collaborators he’s worked with over the years, his band held up wonderfully as-is and they stand to be one of the premiere acts that has been able to successfully cross the generational divide.
All photos by Victoria Smith