Stevie Wonder, Bank of America Pavilion, September 20, 2007
JUST WONDERING: On his first tour in 13 years, Stevie was both impeccable and predictable.
Given the scope of Stevie Wonder’s accomplishments in the ’60s and ’70s, you’d expect him to be writing symphonies by now. Instead, he’s become a veteran superstar, doing what veteran superstars do: making new albums that don’t sell, and playing his greatest hits in concert.
On his first tour in 13 years, which came to Bank of America Pavilion last Thursday, Wonder was both impeccable and predictable. He sang great (with no noticeable loss of range), played great (mostly keyboards, some harmonica), and had charisma, even getting away with a guys-versus-gals sing-along. There was a surprising, unguarded moment at the start when he talked of the devastating effect his mother’s death had on him. (This led, it seems, to his canceling a tour last year.) He gave the people the material they wanted: a good three-quarters of the show came from the classic stretch of albums between 1972’s Talking Book and 1977’s Songs in the Key of Life, with just four songs from the ’60s and only a single tune from 2005’s A Time To Love. There were plenty of extended vamps but there wasn’t any real jamming, certainly none of the out-there instrumentals that can be heard on ’70s live bootlegs.
At that time, his touring outfit was Wonderlove, one of the great quartets in funk history. But last week he brought a full 11-piece band (with multiple percussionists, keys, and back-up singers), and they gave everything a comfortable “just like the records” feel. Once-topical hits like “Living for the City” haven’t lost their relevance, and the stray semi-obscurity (the exquisite “Golden Lady”) was welcome. What was missing on Thursday — and what’s been missing from his latter-day output — was any sense of fresh musical ground being opened, new statements being made, or even much reinterpretation of the oldies. It would be a disservice to Wonder’s history to expect anything less.
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