Stevie Wonder @ Scope Arena – November 5
I will die happy because I have boogied down fifteen feet from Stevie Wonder. I have studied the rips and tears in his clavinet. I have seen his tech guy’s afro shake in the lights as he polished Stevie’s harmonica. I have heard Stevie tear into the wah-wah glory of Higher Ground, then jokingly switch to the syrupy synth of Celine Dion albums, then push the Scope Arena–which opened a year later than nearby Hampton Coliseum–into the Troposphere. I have felt the B-section of Sir Duke snake down onto the floor harder than Zeppelin, fiercer than Rage and crisper than a thousand DJs with a thousand Macbooks. I’ve seen the 62-year-old soul man almost break down and cry before changing gears and rocking the packed hockey arena out into the streets.
[Photo by Sarah Kleinman]
This election eve campaign concert had the feel of a New Year’s Eve show at Madison Square Garden. With Wonder not touring right now, the thousands upon thousands of people waiting outside in the cold knew they were in for something special. Walking up I heard a jammed out version of Signed, Sealed, Delivered. At first I thought organizers had hired a tight-as-hell Stevie cover band to warm up the crowd, but this was the soundcheck from inside. Speakers were placed around the outside of the arena, and screens were put up later for the countless who didn’t get into the free show. During the soundcheck Stevie allowed his guitarist to open the hose a bit, which didn’t happen during the show. However, Wonder’s band for this one-off gig was as tight as any he has assembled–nay, as tight as any band any mortal has ever assembled.
An early highlight was Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel that had Nate Watts switching from bass to keyboard–a role he would play again for the dirt nasty funk of Superstition. Watts has been with Wonder for over three decades, and recently won the International Bassist Award, which had been won by one other musician, Jaco Pastorius, when Nate won it in 2010. Wonder could feel the energy in the crowd, so he played the chords of the MJ classic once through without singing into the mic. This brought forth melodies and harmonies normally heard from the Sunday gospel choir. At most shows, singing along can be a distraction, like the plague of glowing screens, but last night the chorus effect in the second row felt like a warm kiss. For My Cherie Amour the crowd’s harmonies were even more blissful. The booty shaking for stadium cameras that pumped the crowd up before Stevie came out continued throughout, getting nice and dirty for I Wish. There was, however, far too many folks more concerned with their smartphones than with shaking their asses in the first couple rows. Should be some kind of law: if you ride the rail, you reggae hard.
Olympian Gabby Douglas introduced the Motown legend, and there were a couple speeches before the set, but that’s not why I was there. Wonder did talk a lot, but that didn’t bother me. Since it wasn’t a concert with high ticket prices, the American icon was casual and relaxed. . .at one point getting the crowd to shout “assholes!” The keytar didn’t make the trip, but I can’t say enough about how positive I felt walking out into the cold night. The last time I felt like that it was on the Atlantic City Boardwalk after hearing Phish surprise everyone with a Zeppelin mini-set. In all seriousness, Stevie gave me hope for the future no matter who’s in the White House.