Santana European Tour Blog – Part 1 (By Gary Rashid)

Much like the Boeing 747 that delivered Carlos and the band to Europe for the current leg of the 2008 world tour, Santana is a large, powerful and complex vehicle. Both are constructed to carry the designated passengers to far distances via near stratospheric altitudes (in the case of Santana, the audience will be in orbit for, usually, 2 to 3 hours!).

Using the air travel analogy, the first show of the United Kingdom, Birmingham, was much like the process of checking all systems for go, proceeding to the appropriate runway, putting the engines at full throttle, then, proceeding to takeoff!
There’s always a little turbulence while climbing to cruising altitude before things begin to smooth out. Such was the case in Birmingham.

The venue in Birmingham, acoustically speaking, appeared to be slightly less than optimal. Many of the band members mentioned that they had experienced more than the usual amount of sonic anomalies. Nevertheless, after an inspired set by UK artist, Beverly Knight, a highly energized female pop/soul vocalist that also included exceptional backup vocals and an equally impressive band, Santana delivered an exhilarating performance which was, as usual, enthusiastically received. An excellent beginning to what would become a rousing finale in London.

For the sake of convenience, the group resided in Manchester for both the Birmingham and Manchester performances. With landing gear retracted and engines humming at full throttle, the next performance in Manchester would find the band definitively at ‘cruising altitude’.

Where the air travel analogy begins to fail is in the fact that most airline passengers prefer as little excitement as necessary to arrive at the final destination. Nothing could be more diametrically opposite when considering the performance dynamics that comprise a Santana concert.  Such an example resides in the review of the Manchester performance.
As Carlos would define it, he decided to throw the band some ‘raw meat’ to stimulate the appetites of his fellow cohorts. The dish was consumed with great frenzy.
Carlos and the band are now definitely at full throttle but there is no cruising with the music.

The Manchester show exhibited all of the incendiary excitement that fans have come to expect. Before the end of the main set, Carlos invited Beverly Knight, along with her backup singers onto the stage for a three-song showcase that included the following titles as listed in respective order of occurrence, “Make  Somebody Happy”, “Right On/Be Free” and “Praise”.

Beverly’s effervescent presence on stage, with her luminous smile and energetic body language, elicited yet another incredible level of musical excitement. With a vocal range and depth that easily rivals that of almost any contemporary female pop/soul singers that comes to mind, she emoted the perfect counter-part to Carlos’ soaring guitar.
This special guest appearance was guaranteed to enhance what was already a phenomenal musical set. In particular, the second song “Right On/Be Free” delivered an elongated, high energy, soulful, gospel-like groove that brought the audience to their dancing feet.

As scheduling required, the band was hustled directly from the Manchester stage to awaiting vans that would transport everyone to the airport for a flight to London.
Upon arrival to the airport it was learned that the plane designated to fly the band to London was still enroute from Scotland where it was ‘hijacked’ by Jon Bon Jovi who required a quick trip back to Manchester. Needless to say, the band wasn’t going to be getting any extra sleep on this night (unless it was in the lounge of the air charter company!).

After finally arriving in London, albeit, much later than anticipated, the band catches a few hours of sleep before making their way to the 15.000 seat O2 arena, the very unique tent-like venue that was created for the millennium celebrations.

Somehow, even considering the duress of the previous night’s late travel and little rest, the band took to the stage in London to conduct another classic Santana performance that was ‘off the hook’! In addition to a return cameo by Beverly Knight and her backup singers, performing the same songs as from the night before, legendary African musician Idrissa Diop would also join the band afterwards. Idrissa’s vocalization, energy and spirit are a perfect match for the band. His hi-energy & dynamic presence generates an incredible response from the audience. Idrissa remained on stage with the band to complete two of his original songs titled “Historia” and “Africa Antilles”.
It was a great finale to a brief visit to the UK. Certainly, in the near future, there will be more trans-Atlantic calls requesting another round of the inspired music that Carlos and the band deliver everywhere they go.

Time had now come for Carlos and the band to bless the Parisians with the exhilarating beauty, grace and dynamism known to them as Santana. This show was as much about the dynamics of an audience as it was about the band’s performance itself. While UK audiences seem to be an intent listening audience, as well as a requisitely appreciative one, the Parisians exhibited an exuberance that was obviously infectious to the band. A beautiful give-and-take evolved between the band and the enthusiastic audience, each feeding the other, until the very last note was played.

Sheryl Crow opened the show with a classic performance, unfortunately, due to the fact she was traveling with a young child, the audience was deprived of seeing Sheryl mix it up with the band. These two entities have at least one other opportunity to share the stage when they meet again later in the year in Las Vegas.  Idrissa Diop, who coincidentally was in Paris at the time of this performance, once again graced the stage with Santana. Repeating the same songs from the night before in London, the Parisian audience was allowed to experience this beautiful, high energy, artist exchange his plentiful talents with Carlos and the band.

After the exhilarating conclusion to the show in Paris, the last thing Carlos was interested in was the day off in Paris that followed. Just the same, almost everyone savored an opportunity to spend a day in the rich landscape of, truly, one of the greatest and most beautiful cities in the world. Sightseeing, museums and shopping was the order of the day!

With Carlos anxious to resume the momentum that the last four performances generated, the entourage jumped on the plane for a two hour journey to Bratislava, Slovakia where the band was scheduled to play it’s first outdoor venue of the tour, a large soccer stadium.
How could anyone have predicted the intense thunder, lightning and deluge of rain that manifested almost instantaneously? As the band waited patiently for any kind of break in the unforgiving weather conditions, it was finally determined that this show would have to be rescheduled for the safety of the audience and the band itself. After the power supply generators became inundated with water it was even more apparent there would be no reprieve. Fortunately, the Bratislava audience will still enjoy the Santana experience when the band is rescheduled to make up the date on the following Sunday.

For Carlos, having to cancel a show for his dedicated fans that came to share the love, is one of the most distasteful decisions that must be made. One could almost count on a single hand the number of shows Carlos has approved canceling in his lengthy performing career.  Ultimately, in consideration for the safety of the audience as well as the support crews, even Carlos must rarely yield to a higher authority.
Bratislava doesn’t have to worry, when Carlos returns it will be with a generous vengeance!  More to come!