|Playing Sir DukeL Stevie Wonder at The Palace of Auburn Hills, November 20, 2014|
I've seen Stevie play before, including once in Malmö, Sweden. But never behind this album. This tour, this short tour of just 11 dates, had "don't you dare miss this" all over it. Never mind the ticket price, this was a treat.
Thursday's snow storm resulted in a very late arriving crowd, and Stevie didn't take the stage until almost 9:15pm, more than an hour after the scheduled start time. Aided to the front of the stage by the luminous India Arie, Stevie gave a short introductory talk to his home area crowd, saying he was "keeping it real" before settling down to the keyboards for Love's In Need Of Love Today. Were there missed notes? Uhhh... no. Are you kidding? He didn't miss a note all night.
For Have A Talk With God, Stevie brought out India Arie for their first singing duet, and also Frédéric Yonnet to play harmonica. Village Ghetto Land featured the string section -- a major improvement to me over the synthesized sound on the album -- with Stevie inserting "still in 2014" in to the final line of the final verse, just to drive home the point that in too many ways nothing has really changed. On Contusion, he allowed the band to cut loose, and the audience for the first time really got to experience just how good his ensemble is (I counted 21 on stage in all, not counting Stevie, Yonnet, India Arie or the string section assembled locally just for this performance). Then, of course, the two blockbuster singles, with a totally joyous Sir Duke and a version of I Wish that just about blew the roof off the building.
Stevie didn't quite follow the album script precisely (not that there'd be anything wrong with that); after Knocks Me Off My Feet he seemed to improvise a 15-minute jam session, principally engaging Keith John (son of Little Willie John) in an astonishing vocal call-and-response, sandwiched around something, a middle-eastern melody of sorts, that Stevie said might become a new song. I'm told he didn't do that in New York, or at least didn't do that for 15-minutes. All that, leading to Pastime Paradise, engaging the strings again and now with the singers now singing "We Shall Overcome" in place of the album's Hare Krishna chant.
|A little saxophone right here! Ebony Eyes,|
After Ordinary Pain - in which his daughter Aisha (the subject of Isn't She Lovely) - played a major role, Stevie inserted the first two tracks from the EP. An excellent decision, as those tracks deserved a hearing other than as a postscript. It was always hard to put on that EP after side 4, and anyway the EP never played right unless I took off the LPs first. While listening to Saturn a couple days before the show, the lyrics "We can't trust you when you take a stand / with a gun and bible in your hand" stood out to me in a way I hadn't really noticed before. Before playing the song, Stevie gave an impassioned plea regarding gun violence (this being the evening after yet another school shooting), asking those audience members who agreed with him to stand. Most -- not all -- stood. Stevie pledged love for those who disagreed with him.
By this point it was intermission. At nearly 11pm, it was intermission. Enough time for us all to stand, get a beer, and say, more or less, this is a really good day to be alive, and here.
The emotional highlight of the 2nd set was Joy Inside My Tears. Stevie wiped away tears while playing it, and was openly sobbing at its end.
The late start did not mean a shorter show; just the opposite. It seemed Stevie wanted to honor the fans who "weathered the snow" (yes, he said that, I'm pretty sure) by just playing longer and longer.
|Ngiculela-Es Una Historia-I Am Singing. Stevie Wonder and India Arie|
Finally, Stevie issued one more challenge: If the audience could pick out the song based on the first two notes, he'd play the whole thing. No problem at all, we got a gorgeous version of My Cherie Amour, a song that's probably older than most of those in attendance. Superstition rocked the house and closed the show, sometime around a quarter to one. Stevie also said that he'd like to bring the band back to Detroit after the tour for a holiday charity show.
If you have a chance to see this tour, don't hesitate. See it. It's as good now as the album was then. Better, in fact.
|Rocking out at the Palace. Part of Stevie Wonder's band.|