Monday, June 30, 2008

Stevie Wonder @ Taste of Chicago

It’s not often that you can attend a free show that you are this eager to see. While finding an open spot on Hutchinson Field was anything but easy, I would have traversed a small desert to see Stevie Wonder. In the middle of Taste of Chicago on what turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous afternoon, close to 80,000 people crammed themselves onto every available patch of grass. Arriving two hours early was far too late to grab a seat in the convoluted front section, but our small spot was comfortable at least.

Stevie took the stage right on time with an enthusiastic “Hello!” and thanked Chicago for inviting him back to return to Taste after 20 years. He led off with some of his later era tunes, a relaxed beginning that matched the festival atmosphere. Even though we were positioned very close to some speakers, the sound quality was far from pristine. Nuance would be hard to come by. But it didn’t seem to matter for the diverse crowd in our vicinity. Just seeing Stevie, even if he was 150 yards away, was a momentous event. But you got the sense that the ramp-up was going to be gradual.Chart-toppers were peppered throughout the set, and each successive hit drew a more jubilant response from the audience. Many of the more ardent Stevie aficionados got the pleasure of hearing album cuts such as Golden Lady, Knocks Me off My Feet, and Hey Love. A lady behind me excitedly announced, “Oh, we’re going waaaay back for this one!” People of every age, race, and gender spent most of the show on their feet, dancing for most of the nearly three hour set. By the time he rolled Sir Duke right into I Wish, I swear joy was sparkling in the air. Late in the set, during the extended jam of Do I Do, an impromptu Hustle broke out that grew to immense proportions by the end of the song. There were probably 200 people Hustling together. It was as beautiful a line dance as I’ve ever seen.

During the course of the show, one couldn’t help but note just how many hits Stevie has in his repertoire. He played 32 songs, many of them world-renowned, and there were still a ton of classics left on the table. With such a body of work, there are few musical performers in history that can compare. More importantly, Stevie may be 58 years old, but his voice is in superb shape. He hits notes that most can only dream about. Between his amazing catalogue and manifest talent, there’s simply nothing like Stevie Wonder.

If there is one overarching theme in Stevie Wonder’s music, it is love. Love of life, love of family, love of fellow man. That love can bring us all together and conquer the awful things in the world. You have to be amazed that someone like Stevie Wonder even exists. Not only has he written some of the most amazing music ever recorded, he played nearly every instrument on those albums, and has an incomparable singing voice. All this despite being blind from birth. You have to ask yourself if he was put on this planet for a reason. Whether that’s hokey or mystical doesn’t really matter. What matters, and what must be noted, is just how lucky we are to have this man, and how extremely fortunate everyone in Grant Park felt to hear him perform, no matter how far from the stage they were.
Stevie Wonder Setlist:
As If You Read My Mind
Master Blaster (Jammin’)
Did I Hear You Say You Love Me
All I Do
Knocks Me Off My Feet
I Mean It (new song?)
Have You Seen Her?*
Higher and Higher*
Higher Ground
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
Living for the City
Golden Lady
New song?
Stevie’s daughter, Aisha Morris sings a song
Isn’t She Lovely
Ribbon in the Sky
Hey Love
My Cherie Amour
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Sir Duke
I Wish
My Eyes Don’t Cry
Do I Do
I Just Called to Say I Love You
I Was Made to Love Her
Fever*** (sung by Keith John)

*Brief portions of Chi-Lites and Jackie Wilson tunes
**Chick Corea cover
***Keith John, one of Stevie’s backup singers, is the son of Little Willie John, the original performer of Fever
****Sorry, even I don’t know every song in Stevie’s catalogue

NOTE: Greg Kot's review can be found here.


Anonymous said...

Nice review! The instrumental number was entitled "Spain" by Chick Corea. Chick is a legendary virtuoso jazz pianist. That Stevie would use this song to showcase his band is a credit to his own virtuosity both on piano and on harmonica. The word genius is sometimes overused in society. Stevie Wonder is a true Genius without a doubt.

Reed said...

Anon, thanks for the info and for stopping by the site. I've always wanted to check out more of Chick's stuff, but haven't had the time. Setlist is now updated. Thanks again.