He didn’t have to play. It would have been well within reason as an artist, performer and entertainer to cancel the show on account of being sick. But he didn’t. Stevie Wonder, one of the last bastions of iconic artistry, fought through obvious issues with his throat and vocal chords to deliver a stirring and jam-packed, two-hour set of his many classics, covers and even a couple of surprising deep cuts.
The “Evening with Stevie Wonder,” as it was billed, began with the crowd of more than 7,000 at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys rising to its feet as Wonder was guided onstage. Not a note had been played nor had the crowd been prompted, yet we all rose as if Wonder was some almighty amalgam of worldly judge and peace-promoting preacher. And shoot, maybe he is.
After a brief introduction that included some not-so-subtle shots at Donald Trump, “before we start I just need all of you to know that America already is great and will only get greater,” he was off to the races with a focused string of hits. “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me,” “Master Blaster,” “Higher Ground,” “Sir Duke” and “I Wish” were only the first five songs he played with the crowd erupting at the opening notes of each; his focus, energy and enthusiasm were palpable.
He commanded his 12-member band — his disciples in soul — through the tunes in front of a still standing crowd before slowing things down with the “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” deep cut “Bird Of Beauty.”
Between songs, Wonder’s speaking voice was getting noticeable raspier until he could hardly talk. His repeated pulls from a mixture of water, cayenne pepper and honey seemed to be the only thing keeping the show going. And on it went.
After his particularly gravelly attempt at bantering with the crowd, I found myself wondering if he would be able to continue the performance but ever the consummate performer, he dove solo into an instrumental version of John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” and asked the crowd to sing the chorus.
“You know, this song is almost 50 years old,” he said, “but there are still some people who just don’t get it.” He coughed away from the mic before returning to his makeshift sermon “It’s our job as human beings to help them ‘get it,’ you know?”
The piano melody of the Lennon hit slowly morphed into one of the show’s greatest highlights, the “In Square Circle” ballad “Overjoyed.” Any thought as to whether or not he’d be able to finish the show flew from my mind as he soared through the arrangement with a series of vocal acrobatics.
The hits kept coming, from “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” to “Living For The City” to “My Cherie Amour,” as Wonder worked his way through his impressive catalogue of material until making his way over to the harpejji (a 16-stringed instrument that lays in front of the performer like a keyboard) and gave the band a work out in improvisation as he jumped from hit to hit, chorus to chorus, calling out keys and figuring out chords on the spot, “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “My Girl,” Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and more were all touched on.
He gave his voice another break with a short DJ set honoring the incredible musicians that we’ve lost recently. Playfully referring to himself as DJ Chick-Chick-Boom, he played chunks of songs by Funkadelic, The Eagles, Prince, David Bowie, B.B. King and more before returning to his keyboard for the closer “Superstition.”
Throughout the set, Wonder’s talent beamed as it has for his entire 50-plus year career, but it was his ability as a frontman and bandleader to blend humor with socially conscious subject matter with loads of hit songs — all while working through issues with his voice — that provided such an incredibly unique evening of entertainment.
There is no other like him and there never will be. In addition to helping those who don’t “get it,” our job as human beings is to celebrate the great artists on this earth while they’re here. And there is perhaps none greater than Stevie Wonder.
– Spencer Kilpatrick
- Stevie Wonder
Sept. 2, 2016
Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys
1. Did I Hear You Say You Love Me
2. Master Blaster (Jammin’)
3. Higher Ground
4. Sir Duke
5. I Wish
6. Bird of Beauty
8. Ribbon In the Sky
9. Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing
11. Signed, Sealed, Delivered
12. My Cherie Amour
13. DJ Tick Tick Boom’s medley