October 22, 2015 Stevie Wonder Legendary At XL Center Hartford, CT 10-11-15
When Stevland Hardaway Judkins was born back on May 13, 1950, the world had no idea that this premature, sickly baby would one day grow up to be Stevie Wonder, one of the biggest R&B musicians of all time. Although born blind, Wonder quickly picked up the piano, harmonica, drums and also began to sing. It did not take long for his talents to become apparent, and by the age of eleven, he sang his original song, “Lonely Boy,” to an astounded Ronnie White of The Miracles, and the rest was history. Producer/Songwriter Clarence Paul took his new protégé, now nicknamed Little Stevie Wonder, under his wing, and together they made Tribute to Uncle Ray (1962); an album of Ray Charles’ covers and one original song titled “Sunset,” and 1963’s The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie; a mostly instrumental album with two songs, “Wondering” and “Session Number 112,” co-written with Wonder.
Since then, this natural musician has produced twenty-six albums, both studio and live, and has thirty-two #1 hits on the US music charts. He was only the second African American musician to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song, which he received for “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from 1984’s The Woman in Red soundtrack. Not only has Wonder won twenty-five Grammy Awards over his fifty-plus year career – the most ever won by a solo artist – he also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014 for his outstanding work in Civil Rights. Late in 2014, Wonder announced a tour to celebrate one of his greatest albums, 1976’s Songs In The Key Of Life. The tour has been extended several times, and now, a year later, the not so little Stevie Wonder stopped at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut on Sunday October 11th to share the love and fill the hearts of his New England fans with pure, nostalgic joy.
Wonder arrived to a packed house at the XL Center as fans of all ages crowded in to eagerly await the Master of R&B to take the stage. Behind him, his band of two drummers, two percussionists, two guitarists, two keyboardists, six backup singers, a six piece horn section, and members of the string section of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra awaited their cue. As one of the backup singers escorted him to center-stage, the crowd erupted into applause and laughed when Wonder commented on how nice his escort looked in her black dress; “When you’re blind, you get to keep them fine!” He also explained that this would be the last time Songs In The Key Of Life would be performed in its entirety in North America. Without any further adieu, the first songs of the night were played, beginning with “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” and continuing with “Have A Talk With God,” “Village Ghetto Land,” and “Contusion.” When the familiar horn opening of “Sir Duke” kicked in, the crowd jumped to their feet and sang along, practically shouting the chorus, “You can feel it all over…” Wonder then asked, “Y’all with me” as the bass guitar intro of “I Wish” pounded from the speakers.
Next, Wonder sat at the piano to play and sing “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” As the star-struck crowd spread their dancing out into the aisles, the song broke down midway as the orchestra built to a crescendo and Wonder crooned, “Love is the answer. We need to love each other a little more and the world will be a better place.” For “Pastime Paradise,” six more backup singers took the stage as bits of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” flitted about between the lyrics. Three of those lovely backup singers took center-stage for the second half of “Ordinary Pain” where they traded off lines of lyrics with practiced ease and a saucy bounce in their steps. Wonder brought one of his male backup singers in for “Saturn,” and the two sang a duet worthy of its own single. The first set closed with Wonder on the tack piano for “Ebony Eyes” and a Peter Frampton-esque sax solo that spoke to the audience like a happy old friend. Just before the house lights came up, Wonder gave a heartfelt speech on why black lives matter before a twenty minute intermission.
Wonder hit the stage after the break and explained how he wrote “Isn’t She Lovely?” when he found out he was having a baby back in 1974. Although he had no idea what gender the baby would be, his gut told him he would have a daughter. The lyrics to “Isn’t She Lovely?” flowed out of him naturally and the hit song was born. A few months later, so was Aisha Morris. Wonder played the song for his audience, wrapping it up nicely with a heavy harmonic outro. Both audience and performer emotions welled for “Joy Inside My Tears.” Unable to stay seated, Wonder popped up behind the piano as he belted out the lyrics. The two keyboardists in the musical ensemble joined together for “Black Man” while both guitarists exchanged solos during an extended middle section of “All Day Sucker.” “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)” highlighted the saxophone player once again along with both Wonder and his second harmonica player as they took center stage, riffing off of each other before hitting stride in a full out, no-holds-barred Blues interlude. The band played “Canadian Sunset” just before Wonder pulled out the harpeji for a cover of The Impressions’ “People Get Ready.” The lone sound of the guitar/piano crossover instrument was the only music as the crowd sang along to the familiar tune. Once again, a backup singer joined Wonder for “Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing.” Just before breaking into “If It’s Magic,” the singer explained that he was going to sing this song to the original harp track that had been played by the late Dorothy Ashby in the initial recording of the song. The second set ended with “As” and “Another Star.”
By this time, Wonder and his band had been playing for over two hours, so an encore was hoped for, but not expected. Of course, this sixty-five year old R&B veteran is not one to leave his fans wanting, so, not only did he play an encore, he began it by coming out as his alter ego, DJ Tick Tick Boom. With two turntables, DJ Tick Tick Boom busted out one sample after another, too quick for the audience to keep up with, although bits of The Weeknd and Earth, Wind and Fire were heard. Stevie then left his newly found second half behind as he jumped back into some of his old favorites, including “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Do I Do,” and “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” A night with Stevie Wonder would not be complete without a performance of “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” Even after playing the song for over thirty years, Wonder still sings the track with absolute gusto. After over three hours of music, the show came to an end with “Superstition,” the band playing an extended outro as singers and band members alike waved goodnight to the exhausted but fulfilled crowd. Stevie and his singers left the stage, but the band played on, bringing the night to a titillating climax.
Even after an entire year of touring, Stevie Wonder is not done yet. His tour began at Madison Square Garden in New York City back on November 6, 2014, and after over forty shows, the final leg will come full circle, ending on November 24, 2015 in that very same venue. Since this will be the last time the Songs in the Key of Life album will be played in its entirety on stage in the United States, fans should jump at the chance to get tickets to this once in a lifetime show. One of the most amazing singer/songwriters of the twentieth century, Stevie Wonder and his music are timeless. Never before and never again will someone with Wonder’s heart, soul, and rhythm grace the stage of the world’s cities. Do not delay – pick up tickets for one of his remaining shows while they last. There will be no regrets.