Thought I'd do a little review of last Friday's concert at Starlight.
We arrived there a bit early, and queued with the rest of the crowd in the summer heat, and I hesitate to admit I was one of the approximately 2,000 people who thought themselves insanely witty upon remarking that he might play songs from his album "Hotter Than July". My wife is a tolerant woman.
So we get in and find our seats, and with 10 minutes before show time we sit down and await the arrival of Stevie and company. Eventually the cast of characters in our particular section of terrace 3 assembles: most notably, the two loud-mouthed but affable hooligans directly behind us, and the hopelessly drunk big dude a few seats to my left. Hooligan A directly behind me was the Chief of Hooliganery, and he enjoyed himself immensely belting out toneless (but surprisingly accurate, lyrically) renditions of the varied Police and Bob Marley tunes playing over the PA before the main act got started. He deftly defused any potential avenues for us to complain about this (or any other behavior of his) by indignantly exclaiming to no one in particular, "I paid my money, I'm gon' enjoy myself!" Other interesting topics of discussion were the fact that they could only procure two beers per journey to and from the many varied alcohol vendors at the back of the theatre. This was apparently a tremendous handicap to their stated intent of having a good time, but put your hearts at ease; I can assure you that they did indeed have a good time.
Hopelessly Drunk Big Dude was the other character of note, and he and his lady friend were, as you might suspect, full to the backteeth of the right stuff. He had a wonderfully amusing habit of screaming, at inappropriately soft/tender/introspective moments in the concert, either "woooooooooooo!" or "yyyyeaaaaahhhrrgghhh!" or "herrrre we goooooo!", throwing his arms up in the air in elation, and then planting a drunken mouth gesture (one hesitates to call it a kiss, as such) on his lady friend. I think it could be said that he, too, was having a good time.
So we're waiting (YEARRGGHH!) for the concert to begin (HERE WE GO!). And waiting...and I catch myself seconds before actually mentioning CP time. Anyway, the concert finally gets under way at 8:55, almost an hour behind schedule, but at least by this point the sun has started to fade and it is cooling off. Mr. Wonder himself is led out on stage by his daughter (Aisha Morris, who performs as a backup singer with him). Stevie addresses the crowd, and is notably upset regarding the previous day's events. He gathers some steam and starts all but preaching a sermon against the news media and others that criticise and snipe at Michael Jackson. The crowd laps it in, and I think this may be where Hooligan B started his (also wonderfully amusing) habit of screaming at strangely inappropriate times, at the top of his lungs, a woeful "MICHAEL!!!!!". Time to get down to business though...Stevie sets down and starts up a soft, piano based version of "Love's in Need of Love Today". Hooligans A and B had been making guesses on what the opener song would be, and in my mind I had forecasted this very song, but had sadly not voiced this guess to the Hooligans and so I had to content myself with private celebration of this substantial victory. Stevie then segues into a rendition of "Kansas City", with the band I think taken by surprise but professional in their ability to catch back up. Then into a Latin-tinged "Bird of Beauty". The band really took off with the less well known but thoroughly smoking "As If You Read My Mind", which stuck in my head as a possible cover tune for future musical projects. However, all these songs were not exceptionally well known to the crowd, and so when the thumping bass line of "Master Blaster (Jammin')" kicked out next, the crowd erupted and rose to their feet. After that, Stevie mused a bit on his fallen comrade-in-funk (Hooligan B: "MICHAELLLL!"), and invited the crowd to sing the vocals on an instrumental version of "Billie Jean". A joyfully groovy rendition of "Did I Hear You Say You Love Me" jolted the crowd (and I suspect the band leader himself) out of the melancholy mood, and "All I Do" got the crowd excited and into it. Also, the last three songs (outside of the MJ reference) had been indeed from "Hotter Than July", which of course made the aforementioned 2,000 people think themselves now both witty AND clairvoyant.
Things went down a few notches on the intensity scale, and with the band grooving mildly, Stevie started using what appeared to be a talkbox (different from the vocoder which is more common among keyboardists). Not only did he give Peter Frampton a run for his money with his ability to clearly enunciate with the talkbox, he actually launched back into his sermon about Michael's eternal destiny, and the overall naughtiness of folks that criticise him and such like. Frampton just wanted to know if we felt like he did, but Stevie was delivering a full-blown philisophical treatise via talkbox!
Collectively the crowd felt embarrassed as Stevie mentioned a song he wrote for Michael Jackson ("I Can't Help It") that meant a lot to him, and when he asked the crowd to sing the vocals we all just sat around mumbling, without any real clue as to the lyrics. There was a mild fear he was going to get pissed and berate us for our lack of faithfulness to the lyrics of the King of Pop, but thankfully he was gracious in that regard to our ignorance. Then into "Never Can Say Goodbye" by the Jackson 5, which of course elicited not a small amount of mournful exclamations from Hooligan B.
"Higher Ground" brought the funky momentum back to the show, which was followed by Chick Corea's "Spain", which is their usual band showcase tune, including fantastic solos from each member of the band; the excellence of the band cannot be understated, this is every bit as professional a groove outfit as Steely Dan. "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" followed, and I'm reasonably sure the band played the whole song but I couldn't say that with certainty, in that Hooligans A and B had found their favorite song and were singing (or, something akin to singing) with eardrum-busting intensity. At one point, I believe Hooligan A drunk-dialed his mom of all people to say "Hi Mom! I'm at Stevie Wonder! They're playing our song!" The song finished...and of course, a seemingly random "MICHAEL!!!!" punctuated the silence that followed. Which was actually fitting in that Stevie sitting at the piano started writing an improvised song of sorts, along the same theme of people criticising people, how that's bad, and how someone is with the Father now, et cetera. The mood remained soft for a beautiful performance of "You and I" from Talking Book. Hopeless Drunk Big Dude thought the soft piano ballad was a great time to fling his arms violently in the air and bellow "HEERRRE WE GOOO! WOOOOO!". Then, another one of those well-known-to-the-crowd songs got everyone else on their feet with "Living for the City", followed with his old Motown standard "Signed, Sealed, Delivered". Here Hooligan B tried a variant of his previous formula, shouting (I swear by Almighty God!) "OBAMA!" instead of his usual vocal tic.
At this point Stevie announced he needed a break for some tea, so they played a pop R&B song over the PA. What I found so interesting was Stevie didn't exit the stage for his break. He sat happily at the front of the stage. I suppose since he couldn't see the crowd, it isn't as if he especially needed to be off stage to take a break. After the break Aisha Morris sang a soft jazz sort of song ("I'm Going to Laugh You Out of My Life") with her father, and the band ratcheted things up for the final sprint to the end of the set, first with "Sir Duke", and then with the song I took to be the final song of the set, "Superstition". Halfway through the song, looking around at the absolutely marinated, sodden, drunk-beyond-belief state of our fellow concert-goers, we decided to be fair weather fans and make a break for the exit. As we exited the gates we heard them finish the song and go into "As", a fantastic song, but getting out of the parking lot alive and on time was more than worth missing that tune.
All in all a fantastic show, if it was a bit of a memorial service. I may seem a bit harsh in my discussion of that aspect of it, but I don't really mean it with regard to Stevie Wonder, at least. There is a difference between his grief, having lost a personal friend who (as they both were child prodigies from the Motown label) must have seemed a bit like a kid brother to him, and the celebrity-adoring grief of the average fan, or the crocodile tears of other celebrities that rush their publicists out to make statements of how distraught they are (that they have to take time away from filming their movie which will be out in September! Previews available online!).
I did mention that this would be a "little" review, my apologies for the false advertising.