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Concert Reviews:
Stevie Wonder shows home town heart at Joe Louis Arena

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, November 22, 2015

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DETROIT -- For Stevie Wonder and his Motown fans, twice was just as nice on Saturday night, Nov. 21, at Joe Louis Arena.

When he played the Palace of Auburn Hills last Nov. 20, Wonder voiced a desire to return to the area sooner rather than later -- albeit for a charity show. The latter never transpired, but the Motown legend did come back, this time to play inside the limits of the city he referred to as "my home town" (though he was born in Saginaw).

And it was, not surprisingly, a Wonder-ful night, a long (more than three and a half hours, including intermission) troll through one of Wonder's classic, Grammy Award-winning albums delivered with poignant commentary, a bit of playful humor and, of course, sublime musicianship.

Like last fall at the Palace, Wonder and his veritable orchestra -- 42 musicians including a 10-piece string section, 10-voice choir and six-member horn section -- delivered 1976's "Songs in the Key of Life" in its entirety. The presentation was a bit looser this time, however, as Wonder interrupted the sequence in spots. He inserted a showcase for his six backup singers -- with Detroit natives and Little Willie John's sons Keith and Kevin Johns dueting on their father's "Talk To Me" -- and a solo version of "Overjoyed" into the first set, while during the second set "Songs'" "Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call)" led into an instrumental medley of Benny Golson's "Killer Joe," Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and "The Star Spangled Banner." Wonder also covered the Impressions' "People Get Ready" to add some subtle social commentary to the proceedings.

In fact, Wonder took time before the music started to create a new context for "Songs," talking about the recent spate of terrorist attacks as well as mass murders in the United States. "I am broken-hearted about what's going on in this world...The killing of people, I see all of them as terrorist (acts)...Nothing that has to do with killing anyone will get you into heaven." Wonder called for stronger gun control laws but also championed love and respect -- central themes of the "Songs" album -- as the remedy to those issues.

He certainly offered plenty to love in between the lush "Love's in Need of Love Today" and the euphoric "Another Star." You could drop a metaphorical needle at any point of the show and land on a highlight, whether it was the furious jazz-rock fusion of "Contusion," the one-two punch of the chart-topping hits "Sir Duke" and "I Wish," the long vamp through "Knocks Me Off My Feet," the long, buoyant outro to "Isn't She Lovely," a superb "Joy INside My Tears" that left Wonder in real tears at the end or the emotional rendition of "If It's Magic" to a recording of the late Detroit harpist Dorothy Ashby's original part that again Wonder to tears.

Presenting "Songs" in its entirety also provided a reminder of how good some of the lesser-known songs are, including "Ordinary Pain," "As" and the pointed "Black Man."

Wonder had more than just "Songs" to perform on Saturday as well. As the show crept into "overtime," and past midnight -- which had many fans leaving well before the concert's end -- he took note of fellow Detroiter Aretha Franklin's attendance, leading the crowd in singing a bit of her "Respect." He then assumed his personal of DJ Tick Tick Boom, playing a mash-up of Motown favorites, Eminem's "My Name Is" and other rap hits before finishing the show with a furious medley of "Do I Do," "All I Do," "My Cherie Amour," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," "Living For The City" and "Higher Ground," and a full-length jam of "Superstition."

"I love you," Wonder said before leaving the stage. "I hope you can feel my love tonight."

You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone at Joe Louis who'd say they didn't.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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