While we did not see an actual Welcome to Germany sign as we entered that country after the flight from Lyon, France, to Dusseldorf, there was no mistaking that Germany continues to be prime Santana country. This consistent receptivity for Santana has a long history in Japan and, in fact, far precedes the band’s affiliation with parent recording company BMG- headquartered in Stuttgart- which goes out of its way to promote the band throughout Germany.
The 5/24 concert in Dortmund was no exception. The packed house roared its approval as the pre-concert sounds of Miles Davis melded into Carlos’ acoustic guitar intro to Day of Celebration. Somewhat uncharacteristically Chester Thompson launched into a lengthy solo brimming with unbridled fervor and an unmatched verve. This seemed to be everyone’s signal that tonight was going to be special.
It happens that as a result of a hotel error in Lyon, Chester’s primary piece of luggage was lost notwithstanding the frantic and unstinting efforts of Adam Fells and the tour management staff to locate it. After having all but conceded that the luggage was lost, we all discovered via a call from the Lyon hotel that C.T.’s bag had been found so in more respects than one 5/24, was, indeed, a day of celebration for the entire Santana party and most especially for Chester.
Perhaps it was all this which was responsible for his inspired playing but in any event C.T. set the stage that night, and the rest of the band followed –or, perhaps, was simply swept up in his wake.
The Dortmund set was highlighted by the performance of two songs which the band had never played or even formally rehearsed. A song by late guitarist and longtime Carlos Santana favorite Sonny Sharrock entitled Sharrock was quickly skimmed over in soundcheck and then placed on the songlist shortly afterwards. Another song, Out Of My Head, which featured strong performances from vocalists Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas, received similar treatment.
Carlos, for all his musical discipline and measured approach to concert planning, is still a creature of whim, one who hears the whispered voices of the moment and who accepts and embraces the challenge. It is this quixotic and mercurial side of Carlos which, in a sense, always keeps the band honest. As he often says, “My band will never put it in park”, meaning that the Santana you hear on any night will be playing like this might be their last concert: there will be no holding back, and there will be no musical cruise control.
Two nights later, the 20,000+ people amassed in the outdoor Expo-Plaza in downtown Hannover,Germany, got more of the same. Mañana, a new treatment with outstanding lyrics to the Europa melody had its coming out party to the amused surprise of the band, some of whom made their first acquaintance with the song listening to a recording on the bus enroute to the concert.
Both Dortmund and Hannover continued to underscore the power of Right On Be Free which has become a major crowd favorite with its church revival treatment. Folks who never suspected that they were dancers now find themselves transformed into terpsichorean dervishes once this song kicks in. [or something like that, anyway]
When the band left Hannover the following morning and headed on to Berlin, there was a sense that Santana had found a new gear, that the bar had been raised and that expectations had to be correspondingly heightened. There would definitely not be any “ putting it in park “with this band.