It was hard to tell if Carlos Santana got off more from his guitar playing or his shaman-like peace-and-love preaching Sunday night at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.
For the fans, of course, there was no contest.
Since his breakout appearance at Woodstock in 1969, the 60-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has always instilled spiritual and utopian messages into his sets, but he really went off the hippie deep end Sunday.
The show was part of his "Live Your Light Tour" -- and it sounded like ol' Carlos has been lighting up aplenty, if you know what I mean.
"Unity and harmony and peace are possible in our lifetime," Santana said in a New Age-y video montage that kicked off the concert and made it sound like "We Are the World" would be the opening tune (it was actually 1969's "Jingo").
A few songs later, after his 1999 radio hit "Put Your Lights On," he made a lengthy spiel: "It's important to remind and reestablish that we are all beams of light ... Let us create a masterpiece of joy ... Transcend your own consciousness so that we can heal this world ... You and I are the change for the planet."
The Mexican American music icon gave the Dalai Lama a run for his money with some of the song selections, too: from the dullard anthem "Life Is Worth Living" near the start of the set to the livelier "Brotherhood" toward the end.
Since he shelled out an impressively paced 2 1/2-hour set, though, Santana could be easily forgiven his mystical divergences.
Plus, he remains just so timelessly cool, although his local audience dwindled down to around 7,000 people Sunday from the 15,000 who saw him around the time of the 1999 mega-comeback album "Supernatural."
He took the stage in a black fedora hat, stylish shades and a dapper sangria-colored suit, and he rarely lost that laid-back smile. He even slyly made fun of himself after his longest sermon, asking, "Did you get all that?"
Of course, he also made up for his passionate pleas by being equally passionate in his playing.
The show was light on the radio-oriented tracks that have peppered his albums since "Supernatural" ("Maria Maria" and "Smooth" were the only others offered).
Instead, he and his namesake 10-piece band stuck to their age-old acidic Latin jams and made a few interesting musical divergences.
Among the musical highlights was a fiery two-song duel with Santana's fellow one-time guitar prodigy Derek Trucks, who opened the show with his band (he also plays in the Allman Brothers Band with his uncle, drummer Butch Trucks). Far mellower but equally thrilling, Santana and trumpeter Bill Ortiz traded licks in the elegant jazz tune "Capri."
Surprisingly, the classic-rock radio staples "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va" were on the printed setlist handed out by the stage but they didn't actually make it into the performance. At least "Soul Sacrifice," best-known from "Woodstock," appeased the old diehards in the encore.
Still, a few more familiar jams in the concert might have helped fans live their lights -- or at least light up their Bics.
See the full setlist at startribune.com/poplife Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658