Sunday, November 18, 2007

Stevie Wonder at Madison Square Garden

The lights went down and without fanfare Stevie Wonder walked out to the middle of the stage accompanied by his daughter. He briefly addressed the crowd and explained that his Mom’s death last year ended up inspiring him to get back on the road to do what he does best. After that brief introduction he proceeded to bring the house down for two and a half hours.

He served up so much funky music the Garden seemed to take on a swamp like vibe. Other than speaking to the crowd every now and then he didn’t stop. Several songs such as “My Cherie Amour” were given intros that explained their origin. During other songs such as “Ribbon In The Sky” He urged the audience to participate and they gladly obliged

He smiled broadly the entire night and kept the audience engaged. Mostly he played and sang with passion and zeal.

By the time Stevie played the first notes of “Signed, Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours” the crowd was absolutely jumping. A few tunes later he mentioned that his mom had two favorite singers. One of them was Ella Fitzgerald and the other he said he was happy to have recorded a duet with. And with that he brought out Tony Bennett to duet with him on “For Once in My Life.” An already giddy crowd was given an additional boost. They both sounded great and the song was performed true to their Grammy nominated version of 2006.

Stevie’s band is large and tight. In addition to a drummer,2 keyboard players, bassist and backup singers he has 2 percussionists and 2 guitarists. Their sound is thick, immense and overwhelmingly joyous.

Late in the show the familiar notes to “Superstition” began to ring out. It had occurred to me early in the night that there are only 2 men living with as much funk in their bones as Stevie Wonder. George Clinton is one of them. As “Superstition” started I thought of that again and then I had an out of body experience as Stevie called the other gentleman with equal funky credibility to the stage. That man is of course Prince. He strode out, strapped on a guitar and played lead. It seemed like the crowd was already as high as it could get but Prince proved that notion wrong. The sell out crowd found another level. In the middle of the song Prince and Stevie were side by side dueling a solo, guitar versus keyboard. It was just unbelievably good. Normally an appearance by Prince would have to be THE highlight of a show. Make no mistake it was tremendous. However the entire show was one highlight after another. To name that moment as the singular one of the evening would sell the rest of it short.

Stevie Wonder is clearly having a terrific time out on the road playing from his vast catalog of classic music. If the audience at Madison Square Garden is any indication, fans are as well.