Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stevie Wonder Concert Report: Part 2

A few weeks ago Stevie Wonder performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and The Assimilated Negro was lucky enough to have a ticket ...

Part 1 of the report is here.

Overjoyed: "Though you don't believe that they do, dreams do come true ...." The meat of Stevie's show is pretty much a dream sequence. He delivers non-stop classic jam after jam, and concerns about timeliness/relevance were unfounded. Stevie is classic and for all times and occasions. And he performed every song with the perfect balance of familiar rhythm and live improvisational riffing.

By the time we were in the heart of the 2 1/2 hour set, the place is a full on church. All the vendors and ushers are dancing and bobbing as they carry refreshments and direct people to their seats. Everyone stands and cheers when the next song starts up. They're serving beer and booze and many are partaking and it's a Stevie Gon Wild party for sure. There were even a couple white college-aged college girls acting sloppy sorority drunk right in front of us, which I think made the "party vibe" official.

Stevie weaves in and out of his songs pretty seamlessly, occasionally breaking in to drop some background. His longest story was about him meeting a girl backstage when he was 16. Her name was Marsha. And he's hinting at how he already has a sexual ego at that age, and so he's hitting on this girl, and telling her to meet him in his hotel, but then she brings her mom, and he's all disappointed, and it's compounded by his manager at the time embarrassing him by telling everyone he has to be in bed by 11. After the hook-up gone wrong he tells her to come to the show the next night and writes a song for her in the interim. He plays it for her and she likes it but still demurs from his 16-year old advances. I don't understand how a female could resist a young Stevie, especially if he writes a song for you, and from the sound of it he doesn't either. But the song he wrote ends up being Mon Cherie Amour.

Later when leaving the show a drunk guy starts talking to us and confesses he thought the story was about a 16 year old girl and an older Stevie Wonder. So while he loved the concert he apparently was struggling with reconciling Steve Wonder as a pedophile/child molester. Which would indeed change the timbre on a number of his songs. Phew. We lost Michael, we couldn't lose Stevie to the kiddie-love.

"Signed, Sealed Delivered" was another song that got an extended moment. Cutting the song short in the middle he starts explaining how he thinks it's a jam that still "has life in it" and proceeds to set up a country western version. Which was awesome and a legitimate remix.

Stevie performs the uptempo version of "For Once In My Life," which I've discussed as my preference to the ballad, he then shares how he first heard the song from a singer he always admired and that singer was there tonight. As the band slows down, out comes Tony Bennett and they go into their Grammy award winning version of the song. It was a great crowd moment, especially for the Caucasians, but I still like Stevie's version better.

Ribbon in the Sky: Stevie was able to drop out of songs at will and the audience always picked up the lyrics without missing a beat. But the biggest crowd interaction moment came during "Ribbon in the Sky." Stevie performed most of the song then broke it down and starts orchestrating the crowd:





I want you to sing this .... then he gets into a jazzy "there's a ribbon in the sky" melody.

He goes through it a couple times and the girls hold it down pretty much flawlessly. Now it's time for the fellas:





I need y'all to say "the ribbon ..... the ribbon ... ooh-ooh ah ah ... the ribbon."

Admittedly the guy riff was more of a change of pace from the original song, and ooh-ooh-ah-ah was tricky as far as straightforward easy-to-sing musical sections go. Also the ah-ah part is not sung, it's more throaty, kind of like the ahhhh-teeth suck in Push It by Salt & Pepa. In any event the guys kept botching up the ooh-ooh-ah-ah part. And to his credit, Stevie tries to coddle them along ( I was too busy reviewing their performance to participate). You could see he didn't want to hate on everyone, but he would be remiss to accept what they were doing as up to snuff. So he goes through it a few times, and on pass 4 or 5, just when it seems he would have to give up the guys get it down. He then gets everyone to do their parts at once and ..... it's ok. I'm sure it wasn't how he envisioned, but I'm amused that it might be the last musical challenge left to Stevie, orchestrating a crowd of 15-20K strange people to get a nice harmony section going.

You & I: You & I might be my favorite Stevie song. At the least, my favorite ballad. And as a single guy in NYC, the song, and Stevie himself bring to mind some more philosophical questions:

1.What is unconditional love to Stevie? I think Stevie's bread and butter is the song about infinite undying unconditional love. And usually it's directed toward that special someone. But Stevie has multiple baby mommas out there. So even he serves as a reminder to love's imperfection. Stevie's got love for everyone. And for his lover or partner that must be heartbreaking at times. But what are you gonna do? Hate on Stevie? Makes you realize Stevie, despite writing the most traditionally romantic love songs, might be the archetype for the ultimate philanderer. You could catch him in the bed, and all he's gonna do is start singing Overjoyed, or You & I, or Golden Lady and you have to forgive, you have to forgive. He could do this to women across the globe; he has that much love to give. Play on playa.

2. Can Stevie get angry? Along the same line as Pimp Stevie, its hard to imagine Mr. Wonder as a grumpy pants. But he must get irritable sometimes. This youtube [LINK, can't find it now, sorry] has some producers testifying that they had to rile him up to get the gritty edge for "Living in the City." What a funny idea. How does one get under Stevie's skin? Do you make blind jokes?

3. Who's taking the torch? Are there no contemporary Stevie Wonders out now? I think the closest bet is R Kelly, which is fairly hilarious. Some are talented, but it seems the humanity and consciousness in large part is gone. Less inspired, and with less morality. It's kind of like how Kobe might be better than Jordan on a technical level, but lacks that special transcendent unifying power that makes all the difference in the world.

As: Finally as we're getting towards the end of the set, Stevie gets into the classic Superstition. And in the middle of the song he mentions that Prince might be on location. As opposed to Tony Bennett whom he announced, this one is premised as a possibility. But everyone begins looking around and at each other in anticipation. Prince??!?!?!!? Next thing you know the girl man himself comes out and grabs a guitar. And heads begin exploding around the stadium. He didn't actually do that much razzle dazzle. Sort of joined in on the song, and then did a quick couple riff minutes at the end, and then stepped off. But yeah, Prince came out, and that's all that matters when you tell people.

Stevie closes with the song "As," one of my favorites, and after Prince got everyone excited I was primed for the closer of all closers. The song itself on the album is extended with a building crescendo and I was just ready for Stevie to go crazy. But mid-song he breaks off and does the band intros and thanks everyone and blesses his mother and then heads off. The crowd was definitely a little bewildered. Would there be an encore? Was he coming back out? He had to be, 2 1/2 hours felt like he barely scratched his portfolio. But next thing you know the lights came on and that was it.

During those parting words he also called out people who can't help but hate and said the "haters could die and go to hell." And honestly I gasped because I couldn't believe Stevie Wonder was hating on anyone. Even haters. It felt so unlike Stevie who obviously would love anyone when they were in his presence. Especially females. But I guess in his old age he's getting a little cranky. It shows he's human. But I can't front, it made me a little sad to see him directing hate at anyone. It's like if God came down and started bitching about Britney Spears and her underpants or something. You can't believe they'd come down to that level.

With the lack of an encore and the unexpected haterade as the only two caveats to what was the best concert experience of my life, it stands that I remain prostrate at his throne and will remember this show ... always.


  1. Great piece. Like you, I was really feeling it until you mentioned the "haters can all go to hell" part. Just doesn't seem quite right for Stevie. At least he didn't say "Haters can go eat a dick," which I guess would've been worse.

  2. I thought the Haters go to hell part was pretty funny, actually.

  3. Wow I'd love 2 see Stevie live. My mom had me listening to Stevie Wonder / Earth Wind & Fire's music that whole genre since like.. birth so I can't help but love it.

    - and Prince came out too? That's ridiculously dope..

  4. The 'haters go to hell' part is baffling to say the least, but hey, other than that, sounds pretty close to perfection. I loved the anecdote about My Cherie Amour. When Prince got on stage, I think I would have passed out.

  5. I saw Bob Dylan in 1994 - all ages and all races in the audience and I thought to myself who else could attract this kind of audience? - only Stevie Wonder perhaps and your review confirms it. Like the Bobster he's produced a fair amount of dross but everyone forgives him because the good stuff is better than anyone else. Sounds like a ball. Here in London people have been creaming themselves about Led Zeppelin but his Wonderness is on an altogether different plane...

    I think I would always have Inner Visions as a favourite album. Tony Bennet AND Prince? Your New Yoik cups runneth over. Incidentally regarding the haters: in Europe we look rather bewildered at the direction the states has taken. Stevie looks to us like part of a more generous, adventurous America so if he's ranting a bit well I can understand that.

    This is still a fabulous Blog. Love and luck and laughter to you for 2008


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