Wembley Arena Tour Blog by Hal Miller
London, UK 7/19/13
The Santana Sentient Tour in Europe had enjoyed a most successful first three weeks in just about every respect: good crowds, smooth
travel, excellent performances, a minimum of unavoidable hassles, - and even good weather. But for Carlos Santana, leader and living personification of the Bay Area band that has so dramatically and enduringly established itself as a worldwide household name for more than four decades, all was not right. Even though he acknowledged that his band was fresh and sharp, and glad to be back on the road after a lengthy stay at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, Carlos was still not quite satisfied.
Those of us who have been around Carlos for years knew the symptoms and understood the situation: the date at Wembley Arena in London was fast approaching and Carlos wanted Santana to be ready.
There’s something about playing in one of the major cities of the world that sets him on edge and stokes his performance fires even hotter than usual. New York City, Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, London and a few others all elicit that same determination to excel. It’s not that he lets down in the other places- Carlos never lets down-, but it’s just that he knows that these cities have seen the best and are used to the very best, and Carlos is absolutely committed to the goal of giving that city something it has yet to have experienced and something they’ll be talking and writing about for weeks and months to come. So Wembley was probably circled on his emotional calendar weeks before and the nearer that date approached, the higher his expectations for the band and himself rose.
Perhaps another factor is that in 1972 after the dissolution of the original Santana Band, Carlos brought an all-instrumental band (no vocals) to London’s Wembley Arena. This new edition of Santana played their hearts out and in the process won the hearts of all in attendance, including folks such as Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, and others. The next day, the band received some of the finest news reviews it had ever received up to then and since. Santana at Wembley 1972 was nothing less than an astounding triumph and Carlos has never forgotten that.
So, on 7/19/2013, there was a two-hour sound check on the day of the Wembley concert and just about everyone agreed it was one of the best in a long time. The band changed the intro to “Jingo”, adding even more dynamic percussion; they smoothed out a few wrinkles in the transition between “Corazon Espinado” and “Incident at Neshabur”; they added even more oomph to the background for “Dame Tu Amor”; and, they strengthened the groove on “Sunshine of Your Love”. These and a few other modifications added luster and precision to what was already a dynamic and irrepressible music machine. Santana was ready for Wembley so the only question was whether Wembley was ready for Santana.
Later that evening they opened with a rendition of “Toussaint L’Overture” that threatened to rock Wembley off its foundation. There was a moment’s hesitation after the band concluded-almost as if the crowd was asking, “did that really happen?”- and then absolute pandemonium ensued as a tidal wave of sheer delight and approval erupted. And before the crowd could catch its breath, Santana launched “Sunshine of Your Love” infused with the raw funk of Dennis Chambers’ drumming and braced with the insistent drive of percussionists Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow. Bassist supreme Benny Rietveld was dancing and keyboard master Dave K. Matthews was grimacing with every electrifying chord he played. By the time vocalists Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay entered, the table had been set magnificently, and they rose to the challenge even as rhythm guitarist Tommy Anthony stoked the fires and joined in the backup vocals. And Carlos –he was merely on fire!
As the band proceeded through the show, whatever remnants of the typical British reserve and civility that still existed were gradually demolished. Later when the band talked about the show, no one could remember a UK audience that behaved with such abandon and fervor. It was truly fantastic!
During the past few years, ever since Carlos decided to return to playing “Incident at Neshabur”, that song has become the near de facto standout of just about every concert. His power of dramatic balladry is never better demonstrated than when he plays on the ballad section of this Santana gem that is now in its 40+ year and showing not the least bit sign of age judging from the reaction of the Wembley crowd on this night. Carlos continues to interpolate in his solo the melody of “All in the Game”, a 1960s ballad hit that was revived as an instrumental in recent years by pianist Keith Jarrett. And the effect is nothing less than quietly spectacular as the hush that accompanies his solo speaks volumes.
There were no lulls; there were no soft spots in the program. Whether it was a visit to early Santana with “Jingo” or “Evil Ways” or a salute to the new in “Saideira”, the most recent addition to the Santana show list, the crowd pleasers kept coming and no was enjoying it more than those musicians on stage. There are those nights when you know you’re on and you just love to let everyone else know it.
By the time the show had concluded, Carlos and the band had included it in their list of all-time favorites. It was that kind of night. And let there be no mistake-all those in attendance concurred. Wembley 2013 was a powerful reminder that the Santana Band and its by now legendary leader continue to set the bar at its highest and on the night of July 19, 2013, they
clearly exceeded it.
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