Originally formed during the free-flowing musical maelstrom of the '60s, Santana has always thrived in the environment of improvisation. While in less talented bands the "jam session" can quickly deteriorate into mindless noodling, with Santana it was the basis of their sound.
In the studio, it can be difficult to capture the power of these performances. But experience Santana live, and you'll understand why even though the band had very few radio hits during the period from the early '70s to the late '90s, their renown as a top-notch concert band grew unabated.
Carlos Santana, in particular, is often at his best in front of a crowd. With the band pumping and the audience vibing, he effortlessly cranks out melody after melody, each unique, yet possessing the trademark sound that the world has come to love. Combine that with his world-class percussion players (congas, timbales, guiro, campana bell, et al), and you get the sound that has defined Santana more than his studio albums ever could.
It's no surprise, then, that some of his best-loved songs are always superior when recorded live. Listed below is a collection of some of the best live albums from this master of Latin rock guitar.
Recorded in 1993, this may be Santana's finest live album. With definitive versions of "Europa" and "Guajira," the band is tight but fiery, and Carlos Santana's guitar playing is at its peak.
Originally recorded in Japan in 1974, this mammoth collection of 22 Santana songs was not released in the U.S. until more than 15 years later. Featuring cuts from Abraxas, Caravanserai, Welcome, and Santana III, as well as several new tracks, this album is considered by many to be one of Carlos Santana's best.
Probably the most popular Santana live album, this also features a number of studio tracks (including the hit re-make of "She's Not There" by the Zombies. Recorded in 1977, it showcases a smoothly functioning band, and offers the first live version of "Europa."