Words by: Kayceman | Images by: Adam Farber
Santana :: 05.20.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
San Francisco's Fillmore is hallowed grounds. Legends are born here, and when they are they release cosmic energy that ricochets off the chandeliers and burrows into the velvet drapes, historic photos and never-ending rows of concert posters that line the ancient walls. This is a special place that often serves as a launching pad to stardom. While most megastars who sowed their oats at The Fillmore think back with joy, few return to the 1200 person venue.
When news sprung that Santana would once again grace The Fillmore stage for a two-night engagement in support of the upcoming, 2-disc career retrospective Multi-Dimensional Warrior (set for release August 5), a buzz shot through the classic rock world and the frenzy for tickets began. Santana doesn't play auditoriums anymore; he plays superdomes, pavilions and massive fields. Not only was this an unprecedented opportunity to hear and see the legendary axe man up close, this was a return home for both artist and fans as The Fillmore is where Santana truly found his groove back in 1968.
Walking up to the venue on a brisk Tuesday night, the San Francisco freaks were out in full force. Tie-dye mixed with leather-clad Hell's Angels, yuppies in black jackets and high heels rubbed up against hippies in torn jeans with ratty dreadlocks. Parents walked in with their kids, saucer-eyed college kids were partying, older folks with oxygen tanks (no joke) were seated along the edge of the room and everyone had a smile plastered across their face. Santana is a rare artist that can draw from all walks of life. He's a unifying force in a world of fences and no trespassing signs.
With the capacity crowd foaming at the mouth the 11-piece Santana band (which would dip to five and swell back to 11 through the night) took the stage to the heavily percussive "Jingo." Featured both on Santana's 1969 self-titled debut and the equally as powerful Live at The Fillmore '68 (which wasn't officially released until 30 year later), this was an ideal way to signal Santana's return to The Fillmore.
Santana :: 05.21 :: The Fillmore, SF
History is not lost on Carlos Santana. He made early and frequent references to Bill Graham, dedicating "I Love You Too Much" to the man who first ushered the under-aged Santana into The Fillmore and gave him the confidence to conquer Woodstock and, in time, the rest of the music world. He dedicated "Somewhere in Heaven" to his father and spoke of acts like The Grateful Dead, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix who rode along next to Santana in the early days at The Fillmore. Carlos knows where he comes from and it keeps him humble, open and full of light.
As the band segued out of "Jingo" into "Life Is For Living" the rich, full sound poured out of the speakers and washed over the crowd that was now shaking from front to back; an immediate pull to the spirit world. In all the years that I've shacked-up in The Fillmore, never has the actual sound been better.
Much like his upcoming retrospective album, The Fillmore shows were a balanced offering of Santana's career. As a fan of the heavier, psychedelic work that defined his early years, there were plenty of newer songs that I'm personally not that crazy about (however, considering the radio success and Grammy awards I'm clearly in the minority). But, what impressed me during these Supernatural segments was Carlos' ability to stick nasty little guitar licks into unsuspecting places, making a song like "Smooth" or "Maria Maria" more engaging live than on record. Although some of the slower ballads and vocal-based songs were crowd favorites, it was never long before an acid-washed, raw guitar excursion would creep back in to set off Technicolor vision in the mind's eye.
Make no mistake, Santana still knows how to make the guitar scream and moan. From those first notes of "Jingo" through Hendrix teases, a cover of Mos Def's "Umi Says," "Black Magic Woman" and "Open Invitation" that high-pitched, searing guitar was fluid as ever and bulging with muscles. Standing just a few feet from the stage's edge, Santana captivated those who longed to watch him work his rig. Feet spread wide, he ran up and down the entire neck of his guitar, often switching his arm from below to above moving so fast that it seemed impossible he could continue to hit the right notes. Even when Santana would duck into experimental, strange ground, the band kept everything moving on a rhythmic pulse so natural and pure that it seemed effortless.
Santana :: 05.21 :: The Fillmore, SF
And what a band this is. While longtime fans may speak of the late '60s and early '70s lineups that featured folks like keyboard player and singer Gregg Rolie, percussionists Marcus Malone and Coke Escovedo or drummer Michael Shrieve, the men backing Santana in 2008 are superb. For the past 25 years keyboardist Chester Thompson has been sitting next to Carlos, acting as the yin to his yang, always there with the perfect approach, at times doing the heavy lifting as he did on "Shapeshifter" or supporting with subtlety and tact as he does on just about every track. Drummer Dennis Chambers (who cut his teeth with Parliament and Funkadelic) is as good as any man in the game, and match him with two percussionists (Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow) and you have a polyrhythmic tidal wave for a foundation that is constantly in motion but always on time. Over the course of the show there wasn't one off note or sub-par change. Every shift was executed perfectly. This is an airtight machine that simply doesn't make mistakes. Carlos, of course, ruled the stage, but it was monster bass player Benny Rietveld who served as the biggest surprise to this writer. His bass solo was as good as anything I've seen since by Victor Wooten, but more than the flash, it was the deep sound and constant bulge of his bass that kept pulling me closer to the fold. Add a sharp horn section, including a big trombone solo that danced around "Right On/Umi Says" and "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen," and this band was capable of slipping in and out of every genre, from instrumental blues-blasting rock to Latin jazz, gospel to vocal-based radio hits.
Just as impressive as the pyrotechnical skills of each member was the marathon show they put on. Starting around 8:20 p.m., the first set concluded at 10:10 with "Oye Como Va" and "Novus," and many assumed that the show was over. However, Carlos smiled out over the crowd and said they were just taking a break and would be back for a second set. "A trick we learned from The Dead," he said. And return they did, playing another 90 minutes until past midnight, closing the show with an electrifying "Soul Sacrifice" that bled into "Angel Chant/Into the Night."
Santana :: 05.21 :: The Fillmore, SF
Was this a top-to-bottom life changing rock show? Not really. There were moments when I wanted shorter medleys to blaze into full-bore jam excavations that would unearth the song's potential, but this isn't the 20-year-old Santana fighting for his future. This is the 60-year-old, mature superstar giving his legion of fans what they want - and most of them want to hear the hits they love and the choruses they can sing along to. But that doesn't take anything away from the power of Santana. What amounted to about half the show, when he kept the groove focused on the psychedelic, bluesy, Latin-laced guitar freak-outs, it was as good as any show I've seen this year. And even more than song selection or length of jams, what made this night special was the mix of historical relevance and still contemporary, mind-boggling talent that allowed us to witness one of the greatest musicians and most influential guitarists of all time in the magical, intimate confines of The Fillmore, where he first broke free 40 years ago.
05.20.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
Set I: Peace/Jingo, Life Is For Living, Everybody's Everything, Batuka/No One To Depend On, Victory Is Won, El Farol, Love Is You, I Love You Too Much, Shapeshifter, Day Of Celebration, Right On/Umi Says, Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen, Oye Como Va, Novus
Set II: Lord's Prayer/Sun Ra, Brotherhood, Drum Solo, Open Invitation, Somewhere In Heaven, I Believe It's Time, Serpents and Doves, Maria Maria, Foo Foo, Corazon Espinado, Praise
Encore: Soul Sacrifice, Angel Chant/Into the Night
Check out JamBase's exclusive interview with Carlos Santana here...
Santana tour dates available here...
Continue reading for more images of Santana at The Fillmore...