December 5, 2014
Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life
In order to be a musical legend, you need the Chops and the Vision (of a certain kind). Also, longevity. Stevie Wonder released his critically acclaimed masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life, in 1976, over 38 years ago. It was an ambitious social and cultural work filled with over 20 songs, an R&B Opus, if you will - including hits, “Sir Duke,” “I Wish” and “Isn’t She Lovely.” It was envisioned and released at a time when albums were listening experiences, composed and arranged from start to finish and meant to be listened to that way - not just a collection of singles. It was an instant classic. Listening to Songs in the Key of Life can be an enlightening experience and listening to Stevie Wonder play the album live was epic. No, awesome. It was awesomely epic. Fantastic and epic and awesome.
In fact, the only complaint that I can think of is that there was too much talking. Stevie can be a bit of a chatterbox once he gets going, thanking God and each musician in his (more than) 30-member band, praising the sublime talents of India Arie (correctly so), who performed with him, and introducing his brother (who co-wrote “Have a Talk with God”) and his daughters and introducing Sheila E (who received an enthusiastic reception) and explaining each song and introducing Dave Chappelle who came on during the encore to play a half-hearted tambourine. When you have songs as well-crafted and powerful as those on Songs in the Key of Life, the music can do the talking. The chatting continued even during the encore when he played a medley of hits, abruptly stopping several songs after just a verse in order to demand that he be called “DJ Tik Tik Boom.” This was a bit frustrating since I would have loved to hear all of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” “For Once in My Life,” “Master Blaster (Jamming),” or “Do I Do.” Fortunately, he did play all of “Living for the City” and a rousing “Superstition” (two of my favorites) to end the night.