From Wonder, a night of pure joy
Stevie Wonder's penchant for stringing together snippets of songs during brief appearances at benefits over the past couple of decades seemed to be turning into a permanent MO. With a catalog as deep and revered as his, Wonder is free to share his incomparable voice and iconic craft in flashes if he chooses, and folks still feel more anointed than annoyed. He could have touched down in Boston, trotted out a fistful of medleys covering all the blockbuster bases, and called it a concert tour.
Instead, Wonder delivered one of the finest nights of music this writer has ever had the pleasure to attend. It lacked the drama of a rock show, the spectacle of pop, or the swagger required of a lesser soul man, and was built on the sheer brilliance of Wonder's songwriting and singing. Neither has dimmed with time.
Touring for the first time in more than 12 years, Wonder brought surprising warmth and intimacy to the concert stage. He walked out on the arm of his daughter Aisha, one of his backup singers, explained that his mother's death last year inspired him to return to the stage, and thanked the audience at the Bank of America Pavilion for allowing him to give her a better life than she would have otherwise had. Then Aisha, seated next to her father at the piano, took the opening notes to "Love's in Need of Love Today," a song whose pointed message would echo again and again throughout the night.
In an era of talent-show technicians trained to mimic recycled licks, Wonder's performance was like water from the source - organic and inimitable. Classic tunes piled up in an embarrassment of high points: He played "Too High," "Visions," "Living for the City," "Master Blaster (Jammin')," and "Higher Ground" in an uninterrupted stretch, and one could only marvel at the unfettered fusion of politics and jubilation.
A mini-set of ballads followed, a window on Wonder's keen emotional intelligence and gift for transposing feeling to sound. If "Overjoyed" swelled like a heart in flight, "All in Love is Fair" was the sound of that heart in free fall. Wonder's band soared and burrowed as needed with all the depth and agility Wonder's music demands. And yet with the exception of a killer conga intro to "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing," there was little grandstanding. When you're playing songs like "For Once in My Life" and "I Was Made To Love Her," the thrills are built-in.
For all the definitive songcraft, Wonder isn't immune to the cheesy allure of an audience sing-along. It's hard to imagine who else could have goaded a bunch of guys to chant "I want it! I need it!" in harmony with their dates, who cooed their own racy part on "Ribbon in the Sky," or join him in a drawling (and surprisingly persuasive) country remake of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours."
Deadline demands meant missing the final run of songs, which included "Sir Duke," "I Wish," "Superstition," "Boogie On Reggae Woman," and "As," and brought the show (according to several fans fortunate enough to stay for the entire two-and-a-half hour set) to a euphoric finish.
Joan Anderman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on music visit boston .com/ae/music/blog.