The howling wind and rain surrounding the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham belied the warm glow felt within it’s walls for the “[Stevie] Wonder Summer Night’s Tour”. To suggest that early October is a Summer night is pushing it a bit, even for the most eccentric promoter, but the feeling inside the arena was not one of being glad to be out of the rain or any thoughts of weather or the poor excuse for British summer. This night it was all about the music and, I’m sure, for most of the audience, the chance to see a living legend.
“Legend” is banded about and tagged on to numerous people these days, from mediocre pop stars and footballers to TV presenters famed for being particularly useless and many more talentless no-marks beyond. But do not allow the “Legend” moniker to be devalued by such people when you think of Stevie Wonder.
I’m not going to tell you how many great songs Stevie Wonder has written and performed from his “Little” Stevie Wonder days onwards. If you want to see his discography to remind you of the hits and the albums, then try his own website or wikipedia. But I will remind you that Stevie Wonder was 58 on his last birthday (he was signed to Motown at 11). Which, when thinking of his musical output and influence, is nothing short of astonishing.
But back to the gig: Unsurprisingly, he was led onto the stage to a raptuous reception and it can be fair to say that he had nothing to prove to the audience nor would it have taken much effort to make people’s nights. He could have performed a cut down version of his greatest hits and left after an hour and we all would have gone home happy. Instead, we were treated to almost two and a half hours of glorious music. Yes, he did many of his hits (even if he had stayed on stage till the early hours, he could not have run through them all). He opted to play segments of some of them in a bid to squeeze as many in as he could and it also had the desired affect of the audience cheering and applauding with delight when their favourite tracks were played.
What was surprising to me was the amount of music the veered away from the big hits. The backing band were happy to go along with any musical direction that Stevie led them in, spanning a broad range of musical styles and also a quite magnificent jam where each band member was introduced and had their moment to shine. For me, the energy and enthusiasm of the band really shone through in that period, as when each band member took up their solo, the others turned towards them to watch, admire and applaud.
Stevie was particularly vocal about getting some crowd participation going and he seemed to revel in hearing the audience singing their hearts out for him. It was enough for him to do it without making the more cynical amongst us beginning to think that we were doing his job for him. He also used his opportunity to put his full support behind Borack Obama’s bid to become president – even to the point of getting a crowd of people in Birmingham, England to sing Obama’s name. If Stevie can exhort that sort of influence over here, I imagine Obama must be a shoe-in back in the States. He also gave us some homespun advice about the world being one group of people and that all of the boundaries of race, religion, countries, etc shouldn’t detract from the fact that we are all people and that we really should think about that more often. Wise words, I thought.
So, after he played constantly good music for the best part of two and a half hours, he left the stage to a standing ovation, as he now leaves the UK to head to Australia. And we returned to a cold, wet and windy night a little bit warmer inside and happy that for years to come we will be able to tell people that we saw Stevie Wonder in concert and that he was great…a legend