Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Stevie Wonder - A Wonder Spring Night

I can’t sleep. I didn’t think I’d be able to, because last night I saw Stevie Wonder in concert!! This was the penultimate concert in his A Wonder Spring Night tour of Australia and New Zealand. O M G. Where do I start? This review is favourable, but doesn't really do the concert justice. I can’t wait to do the full post-mortem with my father when I get back home, so here are some ramblings as at 1am, a few hours after the event.

Firstly, why Stevie Wonder? Well, why not, I guess. Billy Joel is playing in Auckland in December, and I’d love to see him in concert, but I figure that the chances of Stevie coming back to New Zealand to tour are slimmer than Billy’s. (I may be wrong, but I’m willing to chance it.) Both are brilliant pianists and songwriters. I grew up admiring Stevie’s musicianship and songwriting ability. The temptation was too much to resist, so I came to Christchurch.

After a late start (40 minute wait – fashionably late, darling?), Stevie was escorted onto stage by an attractive woman, one of the three female backup singers. It turns out she was Aisha (Isn’t She Lovely), and she was, indeed, lovely. First up was a Miles Davis jam and Stevie started the night with a deep harmonica solo. Then, it was into Master Blaster (Jammin). I cried. I actually did. The pure adrenaline and ultimate sound experience can do that to a musician. I swear I’d have been up for almost anything right then and there. (Almost, sweetie. That doesn’t include roller coasters.)

Stevie explained that he and Levi Stubbs, late of The Four Tops (and who died last week) together found a doctor who taught them how to sing correctly, using their diaphragms instead of their throats. I think their doctor did a pretty good job. ;-) As tribute to Levi, the group jammed a version of I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch). A bit slow and deliberate, but still a crowd pleaser.

There was heaps of crowd participation throughout the night, and Christchurch was well and truly ready to have a good time. For Once In My Life was followed by a weird play around with a voice changing thingie, where the group were obviously following Stevie’s jams as he was throwing in bits of songs he liked. I’m not sure how many picked up the first few lines of Crowded House’s first hit, Don’t Dream, It’s Over – a kiwi classic. Bits of What’s Going On, My Girl, Sugar Sugar, Day Tripper, and My Sweet Lord followed. Personally, I’d have chopped this section in half, not matter how much fun he seemed to be having, but anyway, I digress. ;-)

And then it was onto the good stuff. A pumped up version of Living For The City, with the final verse sped up and played three times to end. Very quirky. Straight into Higher Ground. A friend and I can’t quite agree on which version of this song is better; we like Stevie’s original, but prefer Flea’s bass lines on the Red Hot Chilli Peppers' version. The jury is still out. ;-)

Quite a bit more crowd involvement followed, with a few jams and blues snippets thrown in. Then it was Part-time Lover. The bass error after the stop always intrigues me; why didn’t the sound engineer just cut it out of the song? Nevertheless, there was no stop in concert as this was a shorter version. Thankfully, he played Lately in its entirety (another tearful moment – this has to be one of the world’s saddest songs). A bit more jamming and a soulful solo by Aisha followed. All very nice.

And then, the song I was waiting for all night – My Cherie Amour. Sure to put a smile on my face at any point in time. I’m sad that he got the crowd to sing the first verse; it was too low for them, but thankfully he stepped in and finished off the rest. *contented sigh* Short versions of Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I played this for years in my band, so didn’t mind it being cut down), Sir Duke (would love to have heard all of this), and Isn’t She Lovely (ditto) followed. A guest singer, who I understand won a competition of some sort, got to go on stage and sing You Are The Sunshine Of My Life with Stevie; not entirely necessary, but she wasn’t as bad as I worried she’d be. A short version of I Just Called To Say I Love You was next up. I hate the original, but this was slightly modernised and funked up and, therefore, a tad less painful. A bit of a gimmick with some people who were having birthdays for … you guessed it, Happy Birthday.

Then we were down to the business part of the evening: clinching the deal. Superstition (also sick of playing it after several years, but might go back to listening to it now), followed by short versions of Boogie On Reggae Woman, and Uptight, Alright. We got teased with a teensy snippet of Ribbon In The Sky (would soooo have loved to hear all of this!), and then the band’s big outro.

What an amazing 2 hours and 20 minutes of high energy and professional musicianship. There were 15 band members, including Stevie: a drummer, two percussionists, two guitarists, bass, two keyboards, sax, trumpet, three female backup singers and one male backup singer. Such a musical experience! Other than There’s A Place In The Sun, there were no glaring omissions. I would have enjoyed hearing a bit of Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday, I Was Made To Love Her, or All In Love Is Fair, but no great loss.

So, that’s kind of how my dad and I (both musicians) do post mortems of musical events. I know it’s long, and I could go on even further, but will save that for Dad. As expected, there was heaps of overpriced merchandise on sale, including tour t-shirts written in Braille. I didn’t get close enough to touch one out for real and see if they worked. As a venue, Westpac Arena is fantastic and I’ll seriously consider going to more out of town concerts in Christchurch (instead of Auckland) in future. I’m thrilled that I chose Stevie Wonder to help me achieve another of my 101 goals: #85 - Go to a concert.

I’ll definitely put Song Review back into my car’s CD player once I get home to Wellington.

Concert photo by David Alexander Used without permission


Manaiakalani said...

Love the review - you leave the papers for dead :) Wish I had been able to go. Maybe Billy Joel then.

Donna said...

Wow, I can tell you had fun. The review was great!