Stevie Wonder: A Wonder Autumn Night – Nov. 12, 2007 Air Canada Centre

Friday, December 21, 2007

Current mood:  awake
Category: Music

Stevie Wonder treated Toronto to a laid back and informal concert at the Air Canada Centre last night. This was the second time in my life I have seen this musical genius. The first time was at the Saddledome in Calgary many years ago (was it really that long ago?).

This was not a typical concert, but then Stevie Wonder is not your typical musician – the expectations are different in more ways than one. He was escorted quietly on to the stage by two of his back up singers where he gave a speech (yes a speech).

Recently his mother died and he spoke of how he cancelled all of his shows and didn’t feel like playing music for a while. At some point he had some type of vision of her telling him he is supposed to use his gift and that is why he decided to go back on the road with this show. After this touching story he sat down at the Grande Piano and began to play. The first song was Loves In Need of Love Today – the first track from Songs in the Key of Life, his greatest album if you ask me.

This was followed by a series of slower songs as he slowly built the tempo up song by song. By the time he got to Living In the City and Higher Ground the mostly baby boomer crowd was up on it’s feet. More than once he brought the mood back to a more subdued level and then slowly brought the energy up.

Interspersed between the songs he would often tell somewhat rambling stories that were difficult to understand, and in which he would do caricatures of people’s voices. Or he would play snippets of songs in a comical country fashion leaving most of the crowd giggling nervously. This is what I mean by the expectations are different. Most performers cannot get away with long rambling introductions to their songs. The story he told before Mon Cherie Amour, for instance, must have been ten minutes long. But people are very forgiving because when he starts playing he seems to access emotions and a spirit that most musicians have a harder time accessing so completely because we are distracted by sight.

For those who wanted a trip down Motown memory lane they were not disappointed. As, Superstition, Do I Do, I Wish, Signed Sealed Delivered, Send One Your Love and You Are the Sunshine of My Life were all performed. I even found myself singing along to I Just Called To Say I Love You (one of my least favourites but a crowd pleaser nonetheless). When he played Ribbon in the Sky he played an extended ending. Some of the fans couldn’t stop their emotions and one guy was in the aisle having spasms of emotion until an usher made him sit down. I love the old hits but I must admit I was disappointed he didn’t play his most recent hit So What’s the Fuss, one of his greatest songs.

Stevie also welcomed local r&b singer Glenn Lewis on to the stage. Lewis spent most of the time on stage looking slightly confused since I think Stevie Wonder was making up the set list as he went along, and Lewis could not exactly show Stevie Wonder that he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. For Pastime Paradise the band also welcomed a blind percussionist to play along.

Stevie’s back up band was strong and flexible, following Stevie through the unexpected changes in the set, and the difficult chord progressions and key changes he is famous for. I would have liked to see a real horn section for Sir Duke. I counted a total of nine keyboards on the stage and I couldn’t help but think that sometimes a synthesizer just can’t do what a real horn section can.

Despite these criticisms, it is a rare treat to see one of the great Motown legends who has written so many songs that have meant so much to so many people – including me. This is the closest thing to church I get in my life. Stevie Wonder is a musician’s musician and I hope I have another chance to see him again someday.

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