Thursday night, an older Times Union Center crowd was treated to two world-class guitarists — one of legend, Carlos Santana, and one heading there, Derek Trucks.
The bigger Santana gets, the more humbler he plays. He scattered his show with video and vocal messages of peace, which permeated his playing, even at its most aggressive moments.
Powered by an army of percussionists, he opened with the hopped-up “Jingo,” timbales, congas, bongos, maracas and more aligning a wall of drums to set the stage for Santana to ring out with his guitar. Only a handful of guitarists have a recognizable one-note tone: Santana is one of them.
In some ways, the show was one long percussion solo, laid over with different vocal melodies and guitar solos, all the moments tense, some beautiful and some thrilling.
His instrumental ballads were gorgeous, sometimes speedy but always controlled. He’s a master at creating space in his solos while attacking aggressively. He did this often Thursday night, leaving room for his drummers to fill. He thrives on his drummers.
The oldies, like “You Can Depend On” and “Oy Ye Como Va,” hit the older crowd hard. Santana blew the roof off of “Black Magic Woman,” one of his and anyone’s greatest tunes of all. The younger folks in the crowd must’ve loved it, given that they have it memorized from the video game “Guitar Hero.”
Santana continued his theme of peace and compassion when he made reference to the recent fall from grace of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
“Our hearts go out to the family of the ex-governor,” said Santana, silencing the jeers. “It’s not about condemning or judging; it’s about healing. We’re all human.”
He followed with a song “for the females” in the audience, a gentle duet with the trumpeter. He stepped aside for his band to turn the arena into a dance club for a few numbers before returning with the more current hit “Put Your Lights On.”
He brought on Derek Trucks, and the two of them wandered into the ozone for a while, losing and finding each other in a journey that seemed to have lost most of the audience.
“Happy birthday, Santana’s in town!” a band member yelled.
It was a gift alright, and one of the city’s musical highlights of the year.
Trucks opened the show with a classy set of tempered blues. His songs and playing aren’t far-ranging, but he’s an original and starting to integrate eastern influences with blues. He’s a genuine player heading toward greatness. His southern loyalties ground him well when experimenting, as it did on an instrumental based around “Greensleeves.” Santana joined him on this long jam, and Trucks showed more patience on his solo than even the saintly Santana did.
He pulled together his finest lead during “Get Out of My Life,” then closed the set with the melodic, almost bright “Up Above My Head I Hear Music In the Air.”
Together, Trucks and Santana are two of the most ego-less lead guitarists (an oxymoron?) on the circuit today. More than a pleasure, it was an adventure to see them both in one night.