There is no support for tonight’s show, it is all about the soul legend that is Stevie Wonder. I couldn’t believe I was going to be reviewing the show and then to find out our seats were close to the stage added further to the excitement. The N.I.A is a complete sell out, even the restricted view seats have been sold, and looking around, you can see the wide appeal Stevie Wonder has, with the audience made up of people of all ages.
Finally, Stevie is led onto the stage, half an hour later than stated, to a standing ovation, and you can sense the audience’s anticipation at seeing such a musical great. Instantly, he engages with everyone in the arena by encouraging us to clap a rhythm whilst he plays the harmonica, showing a hint of his musical abilities and what is to follow. Sitting down at the keyboard, he launches into As If You Read My Mind, and you hear how truly amazing his vocals are. This is followed by Master Blaster (Jammin’) with a twist in the lyrics to incorporate Stevie’s support for Barack Obama, which he insists on sharing again later on in the show, (maybe a little unnecessary for a British audience who are unable to sway the US Elections). The show continues with Stevie using a talkbox for a medley of tracks including Never Can Say Goodbye, before launching into one of the highlights of the evening, Higher Ground; words cannot do justice to the performance of this track, it is truly awesome.
Stevie proceeds to introduce his vast backing group, which are an array of incredibly talented musicians, who provide a very tight supporting band. They get to demonstrate their individual skills with short solos, which express Stevie’s appreciation for their abilities, and you get a real sense that they are embracing every minute of playing with him too. Having such a large number of musicians produces a large, clean sound, which is a shame for someone like me, who appreciates the grittiness of Wonder’s 70’s recordings; however, it is the best sound production I have heard at the N.I.A. The show carries on with Stevie mixing the few upbeat tracks with a number of ballads, including Part Time Lover, Living For The City and Overjoyed. Continuing with the audience participation, Stevie starts a call and response session, which goes on far too long and becomes frustrating as you know time is limited and he could play another three songs in the time spent trying to encourage people to sing louder.
The last half an hour of the show is by far the greatest part, as Stevie plays through a number of his most loved tracks. He starts with Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours (minus Blue, thank god) moving onto the awesome Sir Duke, followed by Isn’t She Lovely, You Are the Sunshine of My Life, and the incredibly cheesy I Just Called to Say I Love You. The audience lap up every note, with many dancing in the restricted seating and the majority singing their hearts out. In an odd turn of events, the promoter comes on stage to present Stevie with a crate of very expensive wine to show his gratitude for such a fantastic tour, followed by Stevie reeling off a list of thank yous including hotel staff and caterers. Eventually, he returns to the music, the obvious finale being Superstition which goes beyond the realms of awesome and is a fitting end to the show.
Unfortunately, the set was lacking some of my favourite tracks such as I Was Made To Lover Her and Uptight, instead the set list favoured ballads and too much talking. With such a vast back catalogue, Stevie is never going to please all of the audience, as he is well aware, however, he could have added more tracks if he had cut down in other areas. Ultimately, despite my moaning, I never thought I would see Stevie Wonder live and, to be honest, I would have sat through hours of romantic ballads just to hear the magic of Higher Ground and Superstition. There is no doubt, Stevie Wonder is a legend.
Review – Toni Woodward