Sounds in the Key of Love: Stevie Wonder at Toyota Center
By Chase Hamblin
Stevie Wonder, a man who lives in darkness yet exudes nothing but light, performed Songs In The Key Of Life in Houston, Texas on the Vernal Equinox. This is the day that the hours of light catch up with and will surpass the hours of darkness until Summer. A new supermoon the same day also created a full solar eclipse for most of Europe. With so much natural imagery of light and darkness going on, and at the risk of sounding very superstitious, it came as no surprise that Houston witnessed a stellar event Friday night.
The show was delayed over an hour, during which time Toyota Center managed to sell me three glasses of red wine. They were $9 each which is actually very reasonable for wine, seeing as Bud Light was also $9. When Stevie came out, lead by his beautiful daughter Aisha Morris (for whom Stevie wrote “Isn’t She Lovely), he explained that a band member was found unconscious at the hotel. He was taken to hospital and was apparently in a semi-conscious state, which is what caused the delay. In typical Stevie fashion, he said all praise goes to God and that the whole band was praying for him. I teared up when he explained that it broke his heart that love is still in need of love, and that he was doing this tour because these songs are still so relevant today. He said it doesn’t matter what religion anyone is or isn’t, that love is the most powerful and important emotion in the world. Then he launched into a three hour performance.
He uses his voice like a force of nature. He could be so soft and then roaring. His vocal bends and runs are amazing, pure R&B. His range is just as high and strong as ever. One of my favorite moments was Stevie moving onto the chromatic harmonica. He really makes it sing, and you can tell the love he must have for what seems like such a simple instrument. He played an instrumental on harmonica with his saxophone and trumpet players, all in harmony. Beautiful. The harmonica reminds one of folk, country, or bluegrass — roots music. I love that Stevie can use this somewhat old time instrument in such a relevant way. It does not sound nostalgic, like with Tom Petty or Bob Dylan, it sounds more like a classical instrument such as flute, but with so much soul when Stevie plays it.
He played the entire album plus the bonus tracks, including “Saturn,” in which he imagines life forms on Saturn to whom, “just to be alive is a natural high.” His backup singers, including his daughter, also had incredible voices. Another highlight was when he featured them on one tune, all three ladies trading verses and adding their own fiery flair. It was feverish how they worked it up. The entire band was naturally composed of absolute slayers. Two drummers, percussionists, horn section, string section, a boss on bass, additional keys and a seriously smoking lead guitarist who was very tasteful while ripping it. The band director Greg Phillinganes did a fantastic job of leading the band and creating the live music canvas on which Stevie could work his magic.
Stevie played several different instruments throughout the night including the harpjii, which is a weird cross between a piano and like a dulcimer from what I could tell. It was a cool sound, and while on it he treated us to an improvisation with the band. Another special moment came when Stevie played a new tune “When the World Began.” He said it was going to cost him, but he wanted to play it anyway. I’m pretty sure he meant they would be fined by the venue for going over their time, but I got the impression Stevie wanted to make up for starting so late by giving us another special treat.
Towards the end of the show, Stevie (going by DJ Tick Tick Boom) played short teasers of some of his other popular tunes like “For Once In My Life,” “Higher Ground,” and “Living For the City,” - one of my personal all time favorites - as well as a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Stevie closed the concert with “Superstition,” which was a fantastic finale we all sang along to.
In short, it was like Stevie holding church. This was special and magical and everyone was there to feel the love. The love that Stevie sings about in the majority of his songs is not romantic or sentimental love though, it is the love between all people, of all nations, of all religions, of all sexes, and of all races. I cannot think of a more relevant message for the world to hear today.
by Guest Author