Last night Kish and I joined JV and Mrs. JV to catch Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life: The Performance at the Schott. It made for a long evening — the show featured every song on that titanic double album, plus some extras and an encore medley of Stevie Wonder hits that ended with him and his singers leaving the stage at about midnight after a thumping, crushing version of Superstition — but it was worth every minute.
Stevie Wonder is aptly named. In the ’70s, he was one of several artists — Neil Young was another — who could be counted on to produce stunning songs, time after time. It was a wonder that he could do it, again and again, without a single clinker. During that period you could buy a Stevie Wonder album, unheard, with complete confidence, secure in the knowledge that you were going to get terrific music and interesting lyrics that would move your feet and expand your social consciousness at the same time. Talking Book, Innervisions, and Fulfillingness’ First Finale were all great albums, and Songs in the Key of Life was the double-album capstone that cemented Wonder’s status as a full-fledged, multi-faceted genius who could effortlessly cross musical genres to capture the urgings of his inner voice.
Last night we learned that he is aptly named, too, because his outer voice has somehow escaped the ravages of time. Backed by a huge band that put out an enormous sound, a cadre of talented singers in their own right, and a string section of Columbus’ own, Stevie Wonder knocked the audience out with the 2015 versions of the jumping songs — Sir Duke, I Wish, Isn’t She Lovely, As, and the closing medley all kicked ass — but his singing on the ballads was especially extraordinary. The star did full justice to beautiful but vocally demanding songs like Knocks Me Off My Feet, Ordinary Pain, Joy Inside My Tears, and Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing as if he had just stepped out of the ’70s. If you’ve been to see a performance of a ’70s musical star lately, you know that it is rare indeed to find one who still has their full vocal powers as you remember them, and in Stevie Wonder’s case it was even more astonishing because last night he obviously was battling the effects of a cold. But he is the consummate performer, he played and sang his heart out, and the songs themselves didn’t suffer one bit.
If Stevie Wonder and his show are coming to your town, you really owe it to yourself to see him. He puts on an unforgettable show, and part of the joy of the performance is rediscovering this legendary figure and music that you loved long ago and that still resonates in your inner core today. As we left the concert, shaking our heads at Stevie Wonder’s talent, JV and I agreed: we need to get more of his music on the iPod, pronto.