Santana live at the Moody Theater

Carlos Santana at the Moody Theater, 9.12.11
Carlos Santana at the Moody Theater, 9.12.11 (by Gary Miller)

Now that the Moody Theater has redrawn Austin’s live music map in its inaugural season, chalk up another unforgettable first: Carlos Santana and band transforming it into San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium like it was 1971. Tomorrow’s so-sold-out second show will miss only the Fillmore’s crystal chandeliers – rattling.

“This is the House of Stevie Ray Vaughan,” waved the 64-year-old Mexican guitarist Monday night, meaning Austin more so than the Moody. Having mined the house the Vaughans built as early as 1983, when he employed Jimmie Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds to back him on Havana Moon, Santana knows Austin beyond Maria Maria, one of four franchise eateries associated with him.

Born in the state of Jalisco, baptized at Woodstock, and transformed into a music transcendentalist just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County – cat nip country to the late Jerry Garcia and Doug Sahm to name two – Santana’s spiritual investment in Miles Davis, Bob Marley, and SRV borders on the cult-like. If he’s long favored performing in San Antonio over Austin it’s not because he doesn’t care. Vaughan's Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton joining the Santana juggernaut not once but twice last night proved handsome tribute to one of the axe master's gods.

Santana’s musical hall of fame starred all evening, in fact, framed by an opening rap/rock cover of AC/DC’s “Back and Black” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” into his own megahit “Smooth” two hours later to close the main set. At every point in-between, the six-string wizard interpolated sacred music into the roiling, double-drummer and timbales-driven cosmic canvas: Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun,” John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” even Eric Burdon & War’s “Spill the Wine.” Santana introduced infectious tour partners Michael Franti + Spearhead for a double-band jam by comparing its bouncing frontman to Bob Marley. Such was the show’s live mixtape. Was that a piece of Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s “En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor” from 1994’s instrumental hotplate Santana Brothers?

Most telling, perhaps, was one of two “Smooth” LP mates from Santana’s commercial comeback, 1999’s nine-Grammy-winning Supernatural. “Corazon Espinado” (thorny heart), originally cut with Mexican sauvecitos Mana, featured a verse and couple choruses from vintage Santana heartbreaker “Guajira,” but a lyrical refrain in “Maria Maria” – a No. 1 hit like “Smooth” and Supernatural itself – put the whole performance in perspective:

Maria, Maria, she fell in love in East L.A.
To the sounds of a guitar....
Played by Carlos Santana.

For every deity to whom he paid homage, Santana and his 40-year oeuvre stood atop an equally high mountain, “Back in Black” giving way to a choppy “Black Magic Woman,” then a rapturous “Oye Como Va.” Later, “Jingo” and “Evil Ways” moved through the eight-piece band, which included his wiry, hard-hitting new wife Cindy Blackman on drums, like a rabbit through a python. Thirty minutes of encores starting with Woodstock showstopper “Soul Sacrifice” left the full house sore from sitting, standing, and dancing.

Santana, meanwhile, unleashed a steady stream of hair-raising blues runs and power chords, and if his playing no longer sounds like he’s hemorrhaging a hydroelectric damn of current, his flurries, accents, and monster riffs remain unequaled in all of guitardom. The sounds of a guitar as played by Carlos Santana didn’t just build a house, they left their own pyramids.

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Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chris Layton, Michael Franti, Maria Maria

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