Road News – Montreal (6/21/2005)

After an overnight bus trip from Greenwich, Ct. Santana arrived in Montreal a bit fatigued but nonetheless exhilarated as a result of a fruitful and exciting first three and a half weeks of the Embrace Your Light Tour.

Every stop along the way of Santana’s march up the eastern U.S. coast- from Miami to NYC, with additional stops in Atlanta, Charlotte, Baltimore, Atlantic City, Providence and Hartford, among others- has had its share of highlights without exception: it’s been that kind of tour. Among the concerts that have truly stood out, the second night in Atlanta where the band seemed to reach an excitement peak as it was joined by guitarist Trey Anastasio, and the Madison Square Concert In NYC when alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett sat in and electrified the near-sellout crowd. What made this latter night especially thrilling is that it re-united Garrett with Santana bassist Benny Rietveld for the first time since both were in the Miles Davis Band of the ‘Eighties.

Audiences for every Santana concert have been getting an extra highlight because Carlos has integrated opening act Los Lonely Boys into the Santana concert, performing “Boogie Woman”, and ‘I Don’t want To Lose Your Love”, the latter soon to be heard on the new CD “All That I Am” scheduled for release in late September.

And speaking of that next CD, concert attendees have been treated to previews of a number of the new songs including “El Fuego”, Wishing It Was”,”Hermes”,”I Am Somebody”, and “Brown Skin Girl”. Judging from the enthusiastic responses of the audiences, “All That I Am” seems destined for major success.

As successful as the April tour of Central America and Mexico was, the first half of the Embrace Your Light has thus far exceeded even that triumph-laden excursion, chiefly because new band members rhythm guitarist Tommy Anthony and conguero Bobby Allende have had one tour under belts and now seem fully comfortable in their Santana setting. That onstage setting, by the way, has been substantially changed: the Santana stage now features an entirely new backdrop, stage bunting, and musicians’ placement scheme. New Santana band, indeed!

At the top of the list of the unusual, the private show for the China Care Foundation in Wallingford, Ct. (Greenwich) wins hands down. This concert was performed under a tent at a harbor mansion for an audience of fewer than three hundred, each of whom was contributing to the China Care Foundation. The stage was practically on floor level so that when Carlos invited a “few” folks to come on stage and join the fun, so may responded that the band, itself, was practically lost in the sea of onstage revelers. At one point, trombonist Jeff Cressman- all 6’4” of him- leaped onto one of the stage speakers just to have room to work his slide without decapitating any of the guests and bassist Benny Rietveld was so swallowed up by the throng that the next Benny sighting didn’t occurred until the band bus pulled away later.

It was a good time for a good cause, and opening act the Robert Randolph Family just made everything even better. Steel guitarist Randolph, whose band will open for Santana on the western portion of this tour commencing in mid-September, joined Santana for 4-5 numbers and played like he’d been with the band for years. He’s definitely got something special.

As has been the case for the past few years, the Santana horn section of Bill Ortiz and Jeff Cressman has come up with more backing riffs and intros for the old songs and new ones as well, and both of these jazz craftsmen have been outstanding in their nightly solo spots.

Musical Eighth Wonder of the World- a.k.a. Dennis Chambers- and bassist/storyteller extraordinaire Benny Rietveld have been their usual riveting and crowd-pleasing selves, while the band vocals have been fattened and energized with the additional backing vocals of Tommy Anthony, Karl Perazzo, Bobby Allende, Chester Thompson, and Carlos in support of lead vocalist Andy Vargas. [In this regard, Tommy Anthony has been simply outstanding!]

With almost two weeks to go, it’s hard to imagine the band getting much better, but Carlos and this band thrive on challenges, so expect the improbable. Unlike so many bands that use pre-concert soundchecks as just a perfunctory run through chiefly for the benefit of the sound engineers, Carlos conducts a mini-rehearsal for every soundcheck, designed to tighten-up certain numbers and to explore new stuff, as well. As always, he views complacency and even a hint of smugness in the band as ever-lurking foes who must be kept at arm’s length; hence, the frequent soundchecks and band meetings. As he says almost daily,” I want every city we visit to remember Santana as something special, as a band that held nothing back”.

And so far, that’s exactly what has happened.