Just about everyone knew that something special had just occurred, but it was Carlos who captured what we were all thinking immediately in the wake of the Berlin concert. “This was the breakthrough concert; this was the one. Now, we are a band,” he said as we bussed back to the hotel after another exceptional concert made even more memorable by the echoes of the crowd calling for more Santana a good ten minutes after the band had left the stage.
The setting, itself, was perhaps the first indication that this was going to be a very good night. The Waldbuhne, located on the outskirts of Berlin proper, is a venerable amphitheater short on creature comforts but steeped in tradition and rustic charm. Peering just over the back central wall of the outdoor arena one can easily spot the highest point of that stadium, the site of the 1936 Olympics and the marvelous triumphs of Jesse Owens and the American team, all accomplished under the glare of a disgusted Adolph Hitler.
There was considerable doubt whether the concert would actually occur what with the threatening skies and all the portents of rain. During the last segment of the Counting Crows opening the rain started and the crew started throwing plastic and tarp on everything in sight. Things definitely did not look good.
When the band opened with Spiritual/Yaleo, there was a capacity crowd of 21,000 to greet them, and the sight of thousands of near-ubiquitous umbrellas of every conceivable color just added to the spectacular opening. They cheered every note and it was obvious that the band recognized their excitement and fed off it. There was one group of about thirty people in the grass enclosure who hoisted an enormous sheet of plastic over their heads as if defying nature to dampen their enthusiasm and at the same time signaling the band that they were here for the long haul.
With each song, the crowd grew even more energized and the band responded in kind. With the first notes of Incident of Neshabur- receiving its initial performance on the tour -, there was an almost instantaneous recognition by the crowd who welcomed this bit of classic Santana. There were nods and smiles among the band who were also delighted to play this favorite which has withstood the test of time so well and which, with its three-part construction, allows them to run the full gamut of musical colors and emotions.
When Carlos greeted everyone during the lull in Make Somebody Happy, he spoke about the continuing need and responsibility we all have to make the world better and reminded them that it was only a short while ago when there was a Wall dividing Berlin and that it was the voice of the people which eventually demolished it. The crowd’s roar of understanding and assent spoke volumes and perhaps it was this spontaneous outpouring which inspired an almost unbelievable performance of Right On, Be Free which followed.
At one point during this song it seemed as though every single person in the arena was waving in concert and the entire sight was absolutely mind blowing! For this song, Tony Lindsay became a Baptist minister exhorting his flock and the band became a frenzied choir responding to every one of his utterances. [Can I get a witness!]
After about two-thirds of the concert had been completed it became pretty obvious that we were going to bump up against the strict early curfew. Juggling the set list in recognition of the looming deadline, Carlos omitted Black Magic Woman and Oye Como Va, going straight into the concert finale of Jingo. Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow stoked the fires with their conga duet and then Carlos and the rest of the band took over with the din and tumult of an ecstatic crowd as accompaniment.
The concert ended with about two minutes to spare and as the band made its way up the hill and down the path to the performers area, the sound of those stalwart 21,000 could be heard loud and clear. And that cheering, clapping, and yelling kept on and on and on.
And all of the crew, the management personnel, players, and us knew that something extra-special had occurred that night. Later Carlos went around to each band member and thanked him for rising to the occasion.
At breakfast the next morning Carlos was still gushing about the crowd and about how well the band played. “Last night we became a band and it’s only going to get better.”