Santana, 02 Arena, London

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The Independent Culture

Having recently joined The Rolling Stones as the second musical act in chart history to score at least one Top 10 album in four decades, Carlos Santana's arrival in London to play at a teeming O2 could be described only as epic.

His latest album, Guitar Heaven, is a new direction for the man often described as one of the world's greatest living guitarists – a collection of cover versions produced in collaboration with other rockers like Joe Cocker and Gavin Rossdale.

Kicking off his set, however, you'd have no idea that Carlos and his band had broken out of their percussion-heavy Latino mould. The first few songs were a delicious tribute to the old days with tracks from the 1970 album, Abraxas, including hits "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va".

Wearing a white Stetson, a brocade shirt, Carlos filled the huge arena, accompanied by four singers, two drum sets, five bongos, two trumpets, a trombone, an electric cello, an organ, maracas and castanets, bass and, of course, his electric guitar. The collective sound was euphoric.

Although he no longer sings, Carlos's skill with an axe is as sharp as it was 40 years ago. Mid-set he led a rowdy audience through a medley of cover versions, including a rather cheesy rendition of "Maria" from West Side Story, and numerous guitar solos.

He introduced us to "the future Mrs Santana", drummer Cindy Blackman, to whom Carlos proposed during a live gig earlier this year. She went on to play an extended drum solo, which gave him the chance to slip offstage for a five-minute break.

"I'm still a hippie, peace and love, baby," he told the audience – something which, despite the deviation in the middle to plug the new album, was reflected in a set list firmly rooted in the 1970s.

The night ended with "Soul Sacrifice", a couple of upbeat covers, plenty of handclapping and the appearance of giant dove onstage, one of the decidedly epic special effects.