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Music Review: Santana – The Woodstock Experience

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This summer marks the 40th Anniversary of 1969's historic Woodstock Music And Arts Festival. As part of the celebration, Sony/Legacy Recordings is releasing a limited edition series of deluxe, double disc recordings by five of the artists whose performances at Woodstock changed the world.

Dubbed The Woodstock Experience, each double-CD set pairs a classic 1969 album from the featured artist, along with their full festival performance. All of the concert recordings — by Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter, Sly And The Family Stone, and Santana — appear on these CDs in their entirety for the first time ever. All are packaged in eco-friendly sleeves, that include a mini-version of the original album cover and a 16 X 20 inch double-sided fold-out poster. With this series, which we are also calling The Woodstock Experience, Blogcritics will be reviewing each of these commemorative sets.

Although it may seem hard to believe now, Santana was virtually unknown outside of the San Francisco area when they performed at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

With only a single album to their credit at the time, Santana was one of a handful of promising, but lesser-known acts chosen by promoters to perform at the three-day rock bash alongside such megabands as The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane.

Santana's unknown status, of course, changed overnight with the band's historic performance. Along with bands like Sly And The Family Stone and Ten Years After, Santana in fact proved to be one of the true breakout acts of the festival.

Their roughly fifty-minute set proved to be a career changer, particularly once the Woodstock film captured their electrifying version of "Soul Sacrifice" a year later. By the time they got to Woodstock, Carlos and company were pretty much set for life. The followup album Abraxas and its hit version of Peter Green's "Black Magic Woman" merely sealed the deal.

On the Woodstock Experience, Santana's historic Woodstock performance is captured in its entirety for the very first time, and paired on a double disc with the band's 1969 debut album (often referred to as the "lion album" because of it's striking black and white cover art).

The most striking thing about hearing these two discs together is how close to the vest these guys actually played it. Make no mistake, this is a great performance — it is every bit as electrifying as the version of "Soul Sacrifice" that's become permanently etched into the memories of anyone who has seen the film. It's also just that right touch of a bit more raw sounding.

But the fact is, outside of a few sound glitches in the vocal mix (which seems to be a recurrent problem with this series), in hearing the two discs back to back, there just isn't that much difference between them. Well, at least outside of the occasional onstage banter ("we're in New York, right?").

That said, the band scorches its way through their allotted fifty minutes here. The percussion unit — led by drummer Michael Shrieve and also featuring the congas and timbales of Jose Chepito Areas and Micheal Carabello — in particular is quite remarkable. There really has never been anything quite like these guys either before or since — a fact all the more amazing when you consider Shrieve was just a teenager at the time.

As on the original album, the song "Evil Ways" merely serves as a sort of pop tune bridge between the furious sounding stew of percolating Latin rhythms heard here. Above all of this, keyboardist Gregg Rolie and bassist Dave Brown (whatever happened to that guy, I wonder?), get in their share of tasty licks. But this is pretty much Carlos Santana's show, and the great guitarist proves why he went on to be considered one of the best ever in spades here.

Shrieve's drum solo on "Soul Sacrifice," however, remains the real show stopper. It's hard to believe Shrieve was merely sixteen years old here — the kid is freaking amazing. But Carlos aside, that one solo probably did as much as anything else they did at Woodstock to put Santana on the map for good. To this day, it's a defining moment of the Woodstock Experience, and of its time.

The addition of Santana's debut album here compliments the actual live performance more than possibly any other set in the series simply because, as I already mentioned, the two pieces are really like different sides of the same coin.

There's really not much point in rehashing a record that millions already own, except to say that along with Abraxas and their third album, this is really one of the truly essential Santana albums. No offense to the latter day mega-selling Supernatural album. But this is really what this band was all about. For one thing, they actually were still a band, rather than merely a vehicle for Carlos.

As with the other packages in the Woodstock Experience series, the concert is really the hook here. That said, they do the usual nice job with the original album, recreating the original cover and the red Columbia logo on the disc itself.

But if you're going mainly for the studio recording, Legacy has a far superior remastered version already out there, replete with the usual bonus tracks and the like (none of which are here).

Nonetheless, the live Woodstock performance captured here —  occasional (and in fairness, expected given the age of the recording) sound glitches aside — make this release a must for any self respecting Santana fan.

The Woodstock Experience series arrives in stores on June 30.

Next up in our series will be Sly And The Family Stone.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “Shrieve’s drum solo on “Soul Sacrifice,” however, remains the real show stopper.”

    Quoted for Truth.

  • Tarkus

    Michael Schrieve was 20 years old when playing at Woodstock, not 16. He’s born in ’49.

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