Review and photographs by Richard Brody
If you were looking for lightning fretwork and pounding drums and percussion then SPAC was close to heaven last Friday night as co-headliners the Allman Brothers Band and Santana provided more than four hours of musical fireworks. Both bands have not only left their own blueprint on rock n’ roll, but have been major influences on other bands: the Allmans on blues-based southern rock bands and Santana on rock and pop bands that infuse Latin rhythms into their sound.
On this evening the Allmans were the openers and from the first notes of their opening “Revival,” it was clear that guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes would be front and center, delighting us with their playing. What was potentially more problematic was the state of Gregg Allman’s voice and general health.
I am happy to report that beyond the weak vocals of the opening number and a couple of lyrical miscues, the familiar raspy growl was in good shape this evening. Throughout their set, Haynes and Trucks took turns playing slide guitar, and the brilliance of their playing, constant throughout, hit a peak during the two-song sequence of Elmore James’ “Sky Is Crying” and Allman’s “Dreams.” The guitarists pushed and pulled each other and with every flurry of notes upped the ante, increasing the applause and screams from the crowd. And on “No One Left to Run With” they sprinkled in so much five-accent rhythm that I half expected to see Mr. Bo Diddley rise to the stage with his top hat and rectangular guitar to help them pound out his familiar beat.
But their set was not all about guitar. Haynes paid his respect verbally to the late Bill Graham, proprietor of the Fillmores, West and East, and a major booster in the early careers of both Santana and the Allman Brothers. Then paid it musically with a heart-felt performance of one of Graham’s favorite songs, Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” Other vocal highlights were provided by Allman on “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” and “Midnight Rider.”
However, it was the encore of “Whipping Post” – with its familiar opening bass run by Oteil Burbridge, the interlocking guitar play that repeatedly ascends and descends before eventually collapsing around the song’s last line “Good Lord, I feel like I’m dyin’,” sung with tired resignation by Allman – that reverberated most deeply with the rich and tragic history of this band.
What continues to distinguish Santana, the evening’s headliners, from almost any other band is their ability to integrate Latin rhythms, blues-based rock and the influences of Coltrane and Miles into their musical gumbo.
Carlos Santana’s instantly recognizable guitar style that favors sustained notes has always been augmented by stellar drummers and percussionists, and their SPAC show was no exception. Dennis Chambers on drums, Paul Rekow on congas and Karl Perazzo on drums, timbales and just about anything else that he could beat on, kept a rhythmic intensity that was irresistible. They lifted “Batuka,” “Jingo” and “Soul Sacrifice” into a dancing frenzy. It was not simply guitar and percussion, as this was an 11-piece band.
Another layer of the Santana sound has been the Hammond organ and on this night David Mathews added some concise solo work on “Incident at Neshabur” and “Batuka” that added another ingredient to the stew. About midway through the set, Carlos called out for some help from Mr. Trucks and Mr. Haynes.
With the two Allmans, the band broke into the familiar opening of “Sunshine of Your Love” with Carlos conducting what was now a 13-piece band and urging Haynes and Trucks to keep leaning into their solos. “Sunshine” was followed by a medley that started with “For Those Who Chant” before segueing into Bob Marley’s “Exodus” and then into “Get Up, Stand Up” that contained a snippet of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” While it might not have been the musical highpoint of the evening, it was a treat to see three world-class guitar heroes going toe to toe.
Where to go from there? No problem for Carlos.
The light touch of the Hammond, followed by a ringing guitar note, followed by the percussion, and we were on our way to the sway of “Black Magic Woman” which led into “Gypsy Queen” and climaxed with Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” and then a thunderous standing ovation.
If you came to hear the Santana of the late ’90s to very recently, you might have been disappointed with the set list that only included “Smooth” and “Maria Maria” from that period. However, if you were (like me) wishing that he played nothing more recent than his late ’70s repertoire, you probably left with a big smile on your face.
This was as good an evening of music from these two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bands as you could have hoped for. The Brothers were on their game, but it was the Santana band, their incredible energy and musicianship that put the evening over the top.
Lucian McCarty’s review at The Saratogian
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: [The Allmans] closed the set with a more recent “No One to Run With” (1994) and filled the screen with images of Duane Allman, sometimes superimposed over Trucks while playing his solo. A little weird for sure, but Trucks, nephew of original Allman drummer Butch Trucks, is known for carrying Duane Allman’s torch. Other photos included their legendary road crew, and a few shots of Dickey Betts, the original guitarist now estranged from the group. Gregg Allman sounded stronger than expected on vocals, given recent health problems and a long life of drinking and drugs, as he describes in a recent autobiography… While a lot is happening on Santana’s stage at every moment, it’s hard not to watch him and he knows it. He played beautiful instrumental ballads, held long signature notes, pointed and directed, danced, waved and picked impeccable and thrilling solos. His guitar tone is unmistakable.”
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND SET LIST
Don’t Want You No More > It’s Not My Cross to Bear
Into the Mystic
You Don’t Love Me
Sky Is Crying
One Way Out
No One Left to Run With
SANTANA SET LIST
Love Is You, Love Is Me
Incident at Neshabur
Batuka > No One to Depend On
Sunshine of Your Love (w/Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes)
For Those Who Chant > Exodus > Get Up, Stand Up (w/Trucks and Haynes)
Black Magic Woman > Gypsy Queen > Oye Como Va
Smooth > Dame Tu Amor
Woodstock Chant > Soul Sacrifice > Bridegroom