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Santana still has magic

When you're 54 and still tearing through adrenalin-spiked Latin rock jams for thousands of fans, you probably could use a little magic here and there.

Maybe that's why Carlos Santana won't put away the Supernatural just yet. He and his eponymous group opened their U.S. tour Thursday night at the Ice Palace and picked up where they left off 18 months ago.

Santana hasn't released new music in more than three years, but you don't pull off a still-vibrant 36-year career without being crafty, and this is a gimme: When your most recent album is one of the biggest comebacks in rock history, sells more than 24-million copies and earns nine Grammys, why mess with a good thing?

And so what if this "All for One" tour could as well be named "Supernatural II?" Would almost 6,500 have filled this arena if that smash album never had been released?

Would Santana even be playing an arena?

Okay, maybe. But an NHL arena?

The spirited audience clearly didn't mind when Santana opened its set in identical fashion to a July 2000 appearance at the Ice Palace. The opening cuts were from the most recent disc: (Da Le) Yaleo, Love of My Life and Put Your Lights On.

Fans were sold from the opening notes of the blistering Yaleo, which set the tone for an energetic night. Subsequent Supernatural selections were just as well received, despite necessarily being somewhat different from their studio antecedents. The last tour proved these songs hold up fine even in the absence of Supernatural's numerous guest stars, so they were a safe bet again.

Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas shared lead vocals and impressed throughout, though replicating the distinctive tones of Wyclef Jean (on Maria Maria) and Everlast (on Lights) is a difficult task.

True, Santana the group has gone through a lot of lineup changes. But Santana the man always puts together a killer crew of collaborators, and the 21st century version is no different. While his lead guitar work is as alternately blistering and resonant as ever, he is ably assisted by these young whippersnappers. And while bass-and-drums solos and lengthy jams probably should be outlawed for most bands, such diversions by Santana's crew were well executed and just as well received.

Credit the crowd for giving it up even more when Santana pulled out some of its biggest classics late, with punchy performances of Black Magic Woman and Oye Como Va that underscored their timeless quality.

When the most recent smash hit, Smooth, followed after a brief break, it actually paled by comparison, though it wasn't helped by an muddled mix that partially drowned out the chorus. It was the sole aberration in an otherwise super-tight show.

Opening was the Wailers, a legendary reggae group with a career even longer than that of Santana _ and at least as many lineup changes. Best known by far for its massively successful collaboration with original member Bob Marley, the group proficiently performed Marley-era classics No Woman, No Cry, Is This Love and Jamming.

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