This was my first time seeing Stevie Wonder live in concert. Once I heard that he would be performing the entire Songs In The Key of Life album, I knew I could not pass up on attending this year’s House Full of Toys Benefit Show.
The show began with Stevie Wonder coming onto the stage with his family to introduce the program. At last he got a cold right before the benefit show, and he did feel he gave his best performance 100%. To make it up to us, he decided to perform, for the first time ever, the entire Songs In The Key of Life album, cover to cover, featuring special guests including veteran alumni musicians and newer artists. The first performance was by the West Angeles Church of God in Christ Gospel Choir directed by Jason White performing “His Mercy” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain”. It was a great performance and I wish that the audience gave more of a response to them. A few minutes later the band took the stage, featuring musical director and producer, legendary session musician Greg Phillinganes. The first song that kicked off the show was “Love’s In Need of Love Today”, featuring vocalist Joe, who would be featured throughout the performance and the Soul Seekers. Next was “Have a Talk With God” featuring Frederic Yonnet and John Popper of Blues Traveler, both sharing harmonica lines. “Village Ghetto Land” introduced the string section accompanying Stevie’s ageless vocals.
The first highlight of the show had arrived with essentially a 3 song suite of the Wonder-penned instrumental fusion tune “Contusion” followed by “Sir Duke” and “I Wish”. Contusion featured legendary jazz fusion keyboardist Chick Corea, delivering an incredible synthesizer solo in the middle of the song. His presence greatly contributed to the greatness of the tune that also feature 2 other keyboardists and 3 guitars. Next came “Sir Duke”. Once the audience heard that horn line, everyone was on their feet dancing and groovin’, and the party continued into “I Wish”, a song about the memories of being young and reckless, perfectly captured. Both songs featured veteran trumpet player and horn arranger Steve Malado, as well as veteran saxophonist Trevor Laurence, and an appearance by neo-soul singer Eric Benet on “I Wish”.
Things simmered down with “Knocks Me Of My Feet”, and fan favorite, followed by one of my personal favorite tracks “Pastime Paradise”, accompanied the string section, the West Angeles Church of God in Christ Gospel Choir, the Hare Krishna Los Angeles Choir, and the incomparable and electrifying Esperanza Spalding on upright double bass. This great performance was followed by “Summer Soft” featuring Eric Benet. Following this song came another string of highlights including “Ordinary Pain” featuring Shirley Brewer and Ledisi, and songs that were not released on the original album but later as bonus tracks, “Saturn” featuring India.Arie, and Ebony Eyes. Ledisi and Shirley’s vocal trades were tremendous and India.Arie’s vocals soared through “Saturn”. Stevie’s vocals really shined on this tune. You couldn’t help but feel the soul and emotion and beauty of the song.
LP one had been completed and there was a 15 minute intermission before the second set. It gave me a chance to take a picture with actor Craig Robinson, who was sitting two rows in front of me.
The second set began with another popular album cut “Isn’t She Lovely”, which got the whole audience on its feet once again. Stevie played an extended 9-minute version of the song that included a harmonica solo, taking up have the songs duration of performance. Next was “Joy Inside My Tears”, featuring another soulful Stevie Wonder vocal. “Black Man” was a tune that really grooved as the song progressed and the audience start to feel it too, slowly but surely. Then came two more cuts that was left off the original album “All Day Sucker”, featuring John Mayer and Ledisi and “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)” featuring Esperanza Spalding on upright double bass, and Frederic Yonnet and John Popper on harmonicas. John Mayer’s licks and riffs roared through the tune, almost bringing it a whole new life. Ledisi’s vocals also shined through the song. It was fantastic hearing Stevie play the melody of “Easy Goin’ Evening” in unison with Frederic Yonnet and John Popper. The melody transcended throughout and they all traded harmonica licks during the middle of the tune. Next was another great highlight of “Ngiculela Es Una Historia - I Am Singing” featuring India.Arie. Stevie got the whole audience singing with him and India.Arie, which brought about much love and harmony throughout the crowd.
Stevie immediately stopped the song and introduced the next song “If It’s Magic”. This performance and song practically sums up the entire Songs in the Key of Life album in 3 minutes. Of course he had to stop singing in the middle of the songs because the track got cut off, the track that features the original harpist that recorded the song Dorothy Ashby, who died of cancer in 1986. Stevie restarted the tune, and brought many audience members to tears. It was a performance that was so tender, so emotional, so delicate and so meaningful, there was not a dry eye in the house. Even Stevie Wonder himself felt the emotion, as he did throughout the night.
Next were the last two songs of the album, both which got the audience dancin’ groovin’. “As” featuring legendary jazz musician Herbie Hancock on electric rhodes and India.Arie on vocals. Then followed the Grand Finale “Another Star”, which had everyone on the stage dancing, playing, and groovin’. It was a great and magnificent way to end the evening. Stevie’s whole family was on stage, as well as all the singers and most of the guest artists. This left the audience wanting even more. Once the show ended, audience members still remained put in their seats, hoping Stevie would come out and play some more; however it was not meant to be, as the stage crew began to tear down instruments and all the house lights finally came back on.
This was a once in a lifetime and unforgettable experience. Stevie Wonder’s vocals are still as youthful as ever and it was great to see him perform with these guest artists and veteran musicians. His genius continues to shine and transcend from generation to generation. His music will never die and his life and life experiences will remain forever engraved in the album Songs In The Key of Life.
Review: Luis Echeverria