Stevie Wonder has toured only once since 1988. It’s been 13 years since he has graced Denver with a concert, and Denver welcomed him back with open arms to Fiddler’s Green at the Coors Amphitheater. Despite starting 30 minutes late, he played for over two hours without a break. Stevie was led onstage by his daughter Aisha Morris, lovely indeed, and after introducing her to the audience accompanied by applause, he said with a smile,
OK, I know, I know…
A Wonder Summer’s Night is the name of this concert tour across over a dozen US cities as well as Europe and down under. It comes two years after the death of his mother, and Stevie said he was inspired to do it by the gratitude he felt to his fans for their support of his career which enable him to do things for his mother than he wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
After Aishi took her place with the other two backup singers he began. He didn’t start with his biggest hits, and some of the early songs in the concert were unfamiliar but not unappreciated. It was a full stage. He had:
- 2 keyboardists
- 3 percussionists with full drum sets
- 3 guitars, including bass
- Trumpet and Sax
Despite the wall of sound his voice rose above it all beautifully. He moved from electric Yamaha and Hohner keyboards to a Yamaha Grand piano. He encouraged the audience to sing along — indeed to start the songs, requiring them to give him a count down. But it was his lyrics that were pure poetry as he sang,
There’s something bout your love
That makes me weak and
Knocks me off my feet
Knocks me off my feet
Beyond his lyrics, which are sometimes difficult to follow, his music itself is complex and sophisticated, the rhythm is often syncopated and other musicians who have tried to do covers of his songs have said it’s difficult to duplicate. But it has a good beat, you can’t help but dance to it.
Nevertheless, he did not only do his own songs, he did a tribute to a couple of other Motown hits:
- Betcha, By Golly, Wow
made famous by The Stylistics in 1971, but Stevie did it in his own way. Using a mouth tube through a synthesizer he showed that he’s always on the cutting edge of musical innovation, and one of the pioneers of synthesized music. This was followed by
- Have You Seen Her
popularized by the Chi-Lights in 1971 as well. But the crowd went wild when Stevie sang his #1 hit from the 1973 album Innervisions
with the the trademark kinetic clavinet-based arrangement, and its optimistic view of the role of faith as he sings into the fadeout
God is gonna show you higher ground
He’s the only friend you have around
Following this the band went through solos starting with the keyboard through each of the instruments while Stevie played harmonica. You could see why he had selected such talented instrumentalists.
As he did another hit from Innervisions
- Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing
you could see the great camera work that was done for this concert on the Jumbotron monitor, as if it was going to be turned into a concert video. The camera angles were superb, the fades were excellent and the close-ups were great. As the audience was not allowed to bring in cameras, everyone had the cell phone cameras out to capture the evening, and my iPhone pictures don’t to justice.
This was followed in quick succession by
- Living for the City
- Golden Lady
Then he did a new song, scheduled for a new album called “Through The Eyes of Wonder”
- Keep Fooling Yourself Baby Girl
He mentioned that he’s working on a number of projects, including a new album called “The Gospel Inspired by Lula,” named for his mother who helped him write “I Was Made to Love Her,” “Don’t Know Why I Love You” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.”
After she finished, Stevie said,
Let’s sing a song to Aisha.
By which he meant, let’s sing a song about Aisha, and then launched into…
- Isn’t She Lovely
You know the lyrics:
Isn’t she lovely
Isn’t she wonderful
Isn’t she precious
Less than one minute old
This is the song he wrote for her on the occasion of her birth. As the song continued, however, he stopped singing, and the audience was uncertain as to whether they were supposed to sing. Then it became clear why he had stopped singing: he was all choked up. His daughter leaned over and kissed him. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
After a minute he composed himself enough to grab his harmonica and resume, and then finished the song, after which he lifted his sunglasses and wiped a tear from his eye.
He spoke to the audience following this, saying
Time is long but life is short
No problem is larger than life — so work it out
Stevie Wonder’s legendary civil rights consciousness and unapologetic discussion about faith are a testament to his many outstanding accomplishments in life. He’s earned many commercial and professional honors in his 58 years, including an Academy Award, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. And he has won more Grammy Awards (26) than any other solo artists.
But he also likes to have fun, and I don’t think I’ve seen any other performer who smiles so much. He got lots of laughs when he asked:
How many of you guys have made love to Stevie Wonder music?
I want some payback, I want some royalties.
How about with this next song. I did… but that’s OK because I wrote it.
And then he sang:
Over time, I’ve been building my castle of love
Just for two, though you never knew you were my reason
I’ve gone much too far for you now to say
That I’ve got to throw my castle away
Following this song, he then addressed the audience with,
I want to form a group. It will be called “The Wonder Singers of Denver.”
OK, fellas, I want you to sing the following…
That sounds just like charch. Not “church”, but charch.
Ladies, I now want you to sing the following…
Now everyone, I want you to sing “La, la, la, la, la, la…”
…and without us knowing it, he snuck us into
- My Cherie Amour
But everyone came out of their seats for the next song, a perennial favorite, and featured in one of my favorite films “You’ve Got Mail”
- Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)
The entire audience was on their feet, except the couple next to me who appeared to be clinically dead. Stevie continued with the following, and “you can feel it all over”
- Sir Duke
a tribute to music’s pioneers like Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Then, from Songs in the Key of Life came
- I Wish (those days, could , come back once more)
Lookin back on when I, was a little nappy headed boy,
Then my only worry, was for Christmas what would be my toy,
Even though we sometimes, would not get a thing,
We were happy with the, joy that they would bring.
The concert was then interrupted with the local radio station who had conducted a contest to see who could sing a duet with Stevie Wonder. The winner came up, a nervous woman with a good voice. She joined Stevie for a song that actually has a female part
- You Are The Sunshine of My Life
The concert concluded with two more hits, as he had earlier excused himself for leaving early and not doing the typical “meet and greet”, in order to attend the funeral of a family member of one of the band members,
And then, his Academy Award winning song from the film “The Woman In Red”
- I Just Called To Say I Love You
Throughout the concert, my wife was on her feet, and singing along with every song. She told me that singing live with Stevie Wonder had always been her dream.
When I asked her why, she said,
I’m practicing so I can be a backup singer in Stevie Wonder’s praise band in heaven.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood culturevulture