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Music Review

Stevie Wonder takes his fans on soaring trip through the years

Stevie Wonder performing at the Comcast Center on Sunday. Stevie Wonder performing at the Comcast Center on Sunday. (Christine hochkeppel for the boston globe)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / June 25, 2008

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MANSFIELD - Stevie Wonder is a man of many identities. Known foremost as a singer-songwriter, he is also a multi-instrumentalist, a civil rights activist, a joker, a proud father, and an unabashedly gleeful performer.

Sunday night at the Comcast Center he was all of those things and more during a show that lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours and hit many of the brightest spots in his deservedly vaunted catalog. As he proved last summer, with his first tour in a decade, Wonder can still bring it. The performance also hit some rough spots, but Wonder and his tremendous 13-piece band were never less than dedicated to the groove, especially the tirelessly sashaying trio of backup vocalists.

After giving props to the winning spirits of the Celtics and Barack Obama, Wonder began the night with "As If You Read My Mind," the first of many moments proving that at 58 he has lost little if any of his elastic vocal range.

The show was a reminder of the diversity of his gifts as the group traversed the humid reggae romp of "Master Blaster (Jammin')," the Latin polyrhythms of "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing," the soul stomp of "Living for the City," and the filigreed contours of Chick Corea's "Spain" with turn-on-a-dime timing.

Wisely, Wonder has added a dynamite two-man horn section, which drove such songs as "Sir Duke" and "I Wish" to even brighter highs. (The string sounds still emanated from keyboards, however, and sometimes overpowered the more tender songs.) He was also mindful of making changes to the set list from his 2007 trek. Unfortunately, in some cases the substitutions didn't hit that same sweet spot. "Knocks Me Off My Feet" was a lush delight with plenty of the audience participation that Wonder clearly loves, but a show of hands among fans either diehard or casual who would rather hear "All I Do" as opposed to, say, "As"?

The mischievous Wonder was evident before the classic ballad "Ribbon in the Sky" when he asked "how many guys have used my songs to get a little bit?" And the doting dad emerged during a solo by daughter and backup singer Aisha Morris, the "she" of "Isn't She Lovely," which he sang with her by his side.

But just as the crowd was hitting the ecstatic peak of soul mania during "Do I Do," the show came to an abrupt and grinding halt when a KISS 108 contest winner was brought on stage to sing with Wonder. No disrespect to the perfectly lovely lady but perhaps the details of what she was going to sing could have been worked out in advance so they didn't end up eating valuable stage time, with Wonder needing to feed her the lyrics to "Superstition" instead of singing them himself.

It's hard to begrudge anyone who plays for two hours and 20 minutes not returning for an encore but the discombobulated ending was a less-than-wonderful way to send folks home.