After Lionel Richie leaves the stage, I make sure to leave the immediate area where the ‘picnic crowd’ had gathered. Now, all there is to do is wait for Stevie Wonder. And wait, we do – first, the approximately 45 minutes between Richie’s and Wonder’s sets. Then an additional 30 minutes before Wonder enters the stage to the sound of September by Earth, Wind and Fire, slowly led by two ladies who make sure to guide him to his piano.
The first song is As If You Read My Mind, which is the first indication that there might be an issue with the sound – which there wasn’t during Lionel Richie’s show. Then greatness follows in the shape of Master Blaster, Higher Ground and Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing. The foundation is there for a great concert, but good sound is as essential as good songs, and unfortunately, the former is lacking, and it’s sometimes hard to hear Wonder’s voice clearly.
He sings a couple of duets with Daley and Corinne Bailey Rae, both OK, but nothing more than that. I think Wonder shines the best when he sings as a solo singer. For Once In My Life is a classic, of course, and when Signed, Sealed Delivered I’m Yours is played, everyone is singing, dancing and clapping their hands, as far as I can see.
Then there’s a strange interlude. A section of songs by deceased fellow musical icons is played, not by Wonder and his band, but by the DJ, like someone just putting on a playlist of Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, Amy Winehouse and Aretha Franklin. As lovely as it is of Wonder to pay tribute to these artists, it would have worked a lot better if the songs had been played as a medley live by the band, instead of just a playlist over the sound system. It seems odd and feels like a bit of a cheat.
Later, we find out that Stevie Wonder is ill and is expecting a kidney transplant later in the year. Maybe he’s merely giving himself a break on stage because he’s not well? And perhaps the microphone is turned down low because he doesn’t feel he can sing as strong as usual? And maybe he didn’t want to cancel not to let down the fans? Maybe. That would all make sense. But it still leaves you feeling a bit flat, after having spent a lot of money on expensive tickets, that a whole section of the concert is merely a playlist of other artists, and the show itself is played with insufficient microphone volume.
But there’s no denying the strength of the songs and the overwhelming musical talent that Wonder possesses. No one can take that away from him, even with lousy sound.
I stay for Sir Duke and Living For the City. Two songs are among the best pop songs ever written, and it’s great to see him play them live and see how the audience, those who are close enough to the stage to hear, react with pure joy when hearing those tunes.
I sadly admit I leave just after Living for the City as it starts to rain. I call it a day before he gets a chance to sing I Just Called To Say I Love You – happy to have seen Stevie Wonder live, but also realising this might not have been the best circumstances for seeing (and barely hearing) him.
Stevie Wonder setlist
(Intro music: September – Earth, Wind and Fire)
1. As If You Read My Mind
2. Master Blaster (Jammin’) / Jammin’ (Bob Marley cover)
3. Higher Ground
4. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
5. Rocket Love
6. You and I (We Can Conquer the World) (with Daley)
7. For Once In My Life (Jean DuShon cover)
8. That Girl (interrupted)
9. Creepin’ (with Corinne Bailey Rae)
10. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours
What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye)
Billie Jean (Michael Jackson)
When Doves Cry (Prince)
Let’s Dance (David Bowie)
Rehab (Amy Winehouse)
Respect (Aretha Franklin)
11. Sir Duke
12. I Wish
13. Living For the City
14. My Cherie Amour
15. You Are the Sunshine of My Life
16. Imagine (John Lennon cover)
17. I Just Called to Say I Love You
18. Do I Do