Live Review: Stevie Wonder, Houston
At 8:55, the great Stevie Wonder was escorted onto the stage to a standing ovation at the Toyota Center by his daughter, Aisha Morris. Yes, the same Aisha crying in “Isn’t She Lovely.” She is lovely and quite curvy, but that’s another story. Wonder proceeded to apologize to the sold out crowd for being almost an hour late, but he said it had been a tough day. One of his band members, Keith John, was found unconscious in his hotel room. He made sure to let us to know that no matter what we hear, it was not drug-related. Clearly shaken,Wonder then told the crowd a little about the album we were about to hear…Songs in the Key of Life. He then walked over to his keyboard and proceeded to rip into “Love’s In Need of Love Today.” With this we were on our way to an amazing musical extravaganza.
Members of the Houston Symphony joined Wonder on a beautiful version of “Village Ghetto Land” and then he proceeded to blow the roof off the place with a back-to-back-to-back tour de force of “Contusion,” “Sir Duke” and “I Wish,” featuring the legendary Nathan Watts on bass. “Knocks Me Off My Feet” was next and, in a word, was unbelievable. At the end of the song, he let his backup singers show off a bit, and told the crowd his band likes to “jam,” which they proceeded to do to the great delight of the crowd. He even let one of the Symphony violinists have a solo. “Ordinary Pain” finished off side 2 and brought Aisha Morris front and center with two other singers for the soulful ending that resulted in a standing ovation from many, including me. He ended the first set with great versions of “Saturn” and “Ebony Eyes,” two songs off the “Something Extra” 7″ single that came with the original album.
After a short 20 minute break, Wonder proceeded to tell us he has 9 children, and was looking for the men to give him some respect, which we did. He also told his daughter Aisha that “I saw you before your mama did.” A stellar version of the song he wrote about her, “Isn’t She Lovely,” kicked off the set, followed by “Joy Inside My Tears,” clearly the most soulful tune of the night and one that left Wonder with tears streaming down his cheeks. “Black Man” and “All Day Sucker” were incredibly funky and “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)” showed off Wonder’s incredible ability to play the harmonica.
“Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing” started off side four, one of the best sides of any album ever. After performing his vocal part with one of his backup singers, Wonder sat down to play an instrument that I didn’t recognize. He proceeded to include versions of “Tequila” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” a tune that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Wonder explained the beautiful “If It’s Magic” is about love and it’s magic power. He sang to the original harp track performed by Dorothy Ashby, who he said died before the success of the album. “As” brought the crowd to it’s feet and a rousing “Another Star” kept them dancing for another eight minutes. Wonder then asked us if we were ready to go home, to which we emphatically said NO. He then sat down at the piano to play “When the World Began,” a new tune he’s working on with David Foster. It was so new, he screwed up the beginning and had to start over.
He again asked if we were ready to home, to which we screamed louder…NO. At this point he said “Stevie Wonder has left the building….I am now “DJ TICK TICK BOOM.” A DJ set up on the piano allowed him to tease with some of his classic tunes. He then did brief versions of “Livin’ for the City” and “For Once in My Life” before ending the night with an energetic version of “Superstition” that had the crowd dancing in the aisles.
This was a magical night of music. I had been waiting for this since I received the album as an Easter present in 1977 and Wonder and crew did not disappoint. As I watched him perform you could tell that he is on a different level of life than everyone else. Maybe not being able to see helps him see everything better than the rest of us. All I know is that if everyone had Stevie Wonder’s spirit there would no war, no racial hatred and the world would be a much better place.