Santana European Tour Blog – Part 2 (By Gary Rashid)

On Sunday June 29th, 2008 Carlos and the band returned to Bratislava, Slovakia anxious to deliver their special brand of musical illumination that was abruptly forced into postponement by the fierce display of thunder, lightning an intense rain mentioned at the end of the last blog.

On this day, the sun shone warmly. Shango, the Yoruba God of thunder and lightning, is nowhere in sight and it promised to be a warm, uninterrupted evening of intense, joyful music, which the band was anxious to deliver.
As frustrating as the two-day wait had been to both Carlos and Bratislava, the interim delay was filled with two more incredible performances by the band.

After the band was forced into retreat by the foul weather in Bratislava, everyone packed up and headed to Warsaw, Poland, which would be the next scheduled performance.
Warsaw appeared to be ready and certainly the band was more than ready!
A discouraging moment of surprise and disbelief settled in as everyone began to observe the skies turn a menacing dark grey. Suddenly at about 6 pm, an intense, wind-driven rain complimented with a healthy portion of thunder and lightning descended on the venue. With intense ferocity, the storm caused an instantaneous deluge of rain. Was it possible that Shango had followed the entourage to Warsaw, intent on inflicting yet another frustrating delay for the band and their anxious audience?

If you were sitting with Carlos in his dressing room, even with a backdrop of dark skies and driving rain, you would have noticed that there was, amazingly, was no visible sign of concern showing on his face.  It appeared that Carlos, despite the immediate weather conditions, was determined to fulfill the union of spirit intended for his eager audience even if it meant putting on a raincoat and engaging his audience with an all acoustic musical set under the balconies of the stadium.

Fortunately, none of this would be necessary. By 8pm, shortly before the scheduled time of performance, the skies, by some miracle, cleared, the rain stopped and the dedicated audience that refused to accept defeat by inclement weather made it’s way back to the main part of the soccer field from wherever they had been sheltered from the storm.
Carlos and the band hit the stage with far more intensity than the storm that preceded them. From the first percussive intro of “Jingo” to the last grooving beat of “Into The Night” it appeared that the audience would leave fully satiated and the potential disappointment that threatened earlier was long forgotten.

To date, this was visibly one of the tour’s most grateful and enthusiastic audiences. They demonstrated this fact with much zeal during the song “Foo Foo” where it has become typical to see audiences engage in an exercise of calisthenics when prompted by the band to jump up and down to the rhythm of the music.

This was, for many band members, their first trip to Poland, however, there would be no sightseeing in Warsaw on this trip.
Carlos and the band said goodnight to Warsaw and immediately left the stage after the show, headed for the airport where the band’s charter jet waited to transport everyone to the next destination, Budapest, Hungry. 

After a late night of travel, the band quickly settled into their hotel rooms. A few couldn’t resist the urge to take a short walk in the warm summer evening across one of the oldest and most famous bridges that crosses the river separating Buda and Pest. The bridge was fully illuminated and closed to auto traffic. Local vendors had stalls aligned along one side of the roadway where they were selling local crafts and grilled foods. It was a colorful scene with locals and tourists mixing together, celebrating Hungarian culture and an exceptionally beautiful evening.
Show day began with a magnificently beautiful morning. The band was scheduled to play a free concert sponsored by the city, slated to begin in the late afternoon. An audience of over 200,000 people was expected (in fact, the final estimated number of people that filled the nooks and crannies in the streets of Budapest in and around the city center was estimated to be much closer to 300,000!).

After several local musical acts performed, the band was ready to take the stage.
With more than 200,000 ‘Santana hungry’ (no pun intended!) souls stretched out far beyond the visible horizon, Carlos and his platoon of musical warriors began to wage an inspired musical assault that would reach to any point of the horizon and beyond.
With his goldtop Paul Reed Smith guitar in hand, Carlos released his heart in brilliant fulisades of shimmering, shining, singing notes into the midst of this sea of smiling faces. As always, every member of the band had a musical supporting or counter-point statement to add.

In particular, trumpet solos by Bill Ortiz and trombone solos by Jeff Cressman delighted the audience. The percussive pyrotechnics generated by the Latin percussion section, featuring Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow, always ignites a roar of approval from the crowd and tonight would exemplify that fact.

Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay work hard elevating the audience’s energy level, sharing their hi-energy vocal duties on many of the band’s most popular songs such as, “Black Magic Woman”, “Smooth”, “Corazon Espinado”.

As Carlos and the band enjoyably cruised through familiar musical territory, the cheers of appreciation amplified with the resolution of each song.
Once again the “Foo Foo” elicited, the now commonplace, jumping exercise. An excellent way for the audience to vent the physical excitement that Santana music is always guaranteed to generate. A sea of delighted fans engaged in jumping up and down in mind-boggling synchronicity with the rhythmic pulsing of the band.

In another highlight, Carlos ventured forth with an elongated improvisation during “Samba Pa Ti” with references to Gabor Szabo (one of Hungary’s greatest jazz guitarists).
As the last whisper of the sun faded into the night, Carlos and the band roared through the remainder of the set and then said goodbye with, and went “Into the Night”.Sunday June 29th the band was forced to give up one of their few scheduled days off to return to Bratislava and make good on their commitment to bring the audience there the Santana experience they had unexpectedly been deprived of.
This performance would be the third of what will now become a string of six straight shows the band will have to fulfill. Carlos and the band will have to unpack the superman suits (which they all carry just in case) and march on.

Cancellations are an unfortunate reality from time to time but they always leave Carlos feeling frustrated that he could not meet his audience at the appointed time. This will always work in their favor, for when Carlos returns to make good on his musical promise, he will do so with an eager vengeance. Such was the case in Bratislava.
Carlos and the band came to the stage with full force and delivered yet another inspired performance.

For this evening’s performance the weather was warm and clear. Of the many highlights that transpired on this evening, a blistering Hammond organ solo by Chester Thompson on the song “Savor” certainly stood out. Carlos introduced a song called “Scripture” (a song of unknown origin) and improvised beautifully, creating an ethereal ‘special of the night’ for the listeners. In another mystical foray for the evening, Carlos coxed Andy Vargas to the spotlight to improvise a few vocal touches while Carlos flirted a little with the doors song “The End”. The slightly dark, Moorish flavor of the Door’s masterpiece seemed to fit this unique evening quite well. After yet another stellar performance and the commitment fulfilled, once again it was time to leave and head off to Verona, Italy for what will become a fourth consecutive show.

The late night journey to Verona began with a little ‘white-knuckle’ adventure as the pilots of the band’s 18 seat jet did their best to dodge and weave through one of the more menacing thunderstorms this writer has had the pleasure of experiencing. Fortunately the plane landed safely and everyone piled into the waiting vans destined for the hotel. The trip to the hotel was a blinding display of incredible lightning that sporadically illuminated the entire surrounding landscape as well as several deafening barrages of thunder.

For the stay in Verona, the band was treated to one of the most interesting, unique and beautiful hotels on the tour yet. Stated to be a ‘villa’ the entrance appeared more like that of small palace. Upon entrance to a grand foyer, everyone was instantaneously mesmerized by an incredible ‘Alice In Wonderland’ -like effect created by an amazing collection of extremely colorful examples of modern art. Someone apparently came up with a unique concept that incorporates a modern art museum within a luxury hotel. Perhaps, we as guests appeared as ‘objects de art’. A very temporary exhibit!

Cloaked in beautiful gardens and graced with a gorgeous pool, this was an ideal nest for the group to catch a small amount of rest and relaxation before getting on what’s most important, the music.

For this night’s concert, the group got in the vans and wove through the tiny streets of Verona to the ruins of an ancient Greco/Roman coliseum. It was a warm beautiful night and the venue was solidly packed. The band was enthusiastically greeted as they fired up the night with “Jingo”. As expected, the band muscled through a tight set that included a few special treats. In one amendment to the usual set list, Carlos led the band with ample improvisation through a beautiful mood piece titled “Spanish Key” (from the Miles Davis album “Bitches Brew”).

In another highlight, Dennis Chambers hit hard and dazzled the audience with one of his incomparable drum solos that always impresses.
Carlos, always improvising and referencing a wide variety of musical sources, treated the audience to an exceptional moment of some serious blues. Any fan familiar with the deep blues sounds of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells would have been pleased by the way Carlos incorporated the essence of their musical vision, enhanced it and made it his own. So concluded yet another powerful evening of music and a beautiful night in Verona. It will be awhile yet before the band members can send their Superman suits out for dry cleaning. It’s off to Salzburg, Austria and show number five!

After a quick check-in to a quaint classic hotel, on the same block where Mozart was born, band members caught a little rest and prepared for the next performance. Show number five would be indoors with an opening artist that has preceded Santana many times before.

Robert Randolf and the Family Band were well received and gave an excellent performance. Robert’s mesmerizing steel pedal guitar work and his hi-energy connection with the audience is an ideal entrée for Santana.

After a brief set-change intermission, Santana hit the stage with the usual, expected amount of vigor. With no visible sign of fatigue, the band proceeded forward as usual with an energetic and inspired musical set.

Highlights for this show would include many improvisational meanderings by Carlos. Of particular note was his expression during the second part of  “Incident At Neshbur” where Carlos always finds a galaxy of pathways to travel.
Another exceptional treat for the audience came when Bill Ortiz fused his exquisite trumpet playing with Carlos bluesy guitar work on a Miles Davis composition titled “Capri”, a very beautiful mood piece.

As with every show so far on this tour the evening ended with the audience energetically thumping approval to “Into The Night”.
Once again, Santana also disappeared into the night, back to the hotel to get some sleep and then a quick trip over the mountains for show number six in Salem, Germany.

The following day, the band checked into a beautiful hotel situated on the shore of a large gorgeous lake. Surrounded by much greenery and tall trees and a spectacular view of the lake the group had just enough time to catch their breath and soak up just a little of the peacefulness that surrounded the hotel before hopping on the bus that would transport the band to show number six!

The venue for this night’s performance was set in a large outdoor plaza. Situated around the perimeter of the plaza were many examples of classic European architecture including a very impressive old church. The pre-show meal for the band and crew was setup in a very ornate, princely stable where dinner tables were placed within the stalls. Rumor had it that the entire grounds did, in fact, belong to royalty of some kind. With the plaza packed to its edges, once again, Robert Randolph And The Family Band warmed up the crowd with generous helping of Robert’s scintillating steel pedal guitar work.

It was a beautiful night. Carlos and the band hit the stage one more time to play their hearts out for the sixth consecutive evening.
The eager crowd was ready to receive the first anxiously awaited dose of fire from their beloved Santana with the always energetic, percussive laden “Jingo”.

The show was on and unfolded in typical fashion with a mixture of vocal and instrumental brilliance that always shines on a Santana audience and is then reflected back to the stage with the audience’s enthusiastic roar of applause.
Highlights for this performance would include Carlos and Bill Ortiz trading solos on John Coltrane’s “Naima”.

Carlos, as he does almost every show, added many beautiful improvisational touches to the later section of “Incident At Neshbar” where he always finds a variety of musical references to visit. If one were listening closely, they would have heard a musical quote from the Beatle’s “Fool On The Hill” Carlos also unleashed a searing solo on “Yaleo”.

About halfway through the show Carlos introduced Robert Randolph who would join the band with his steel pedal guitar for the following four songs: “Curacion (Sunlight on Water)” a new instrumental from the just released double CD set titled “Multi Dimensional Warrior”; “Right On/Umi Says”; Marvin Gaye’s “After The Dance” and some vintage R & B in a song titled “Funky Nassau” originally recorded by a somewhat obscure band called ‘The Beginning of The End”.

After a big hug from Carlos, Robert left the stage and the band closed out the rest of the show with the typical amount of intensity and brilliance. There was, at last, a small collective sigh of relief that, finally, the band could take a short respite from performing and enjoy a day off in Leipzig, Germany, the next stop of the tour.