Legendary singer and musician Stevie Wonder’s latest tour is billed as a “song party – a celebration of life, love and music.”
And when you’ve had a lifelong love of his music – as I have – such a celebration is an opportunity you simply don’t pass up when it presents itself.
A recent concert by Stevie became that opportunity, not just for me, but for the lady who introduced me to Stevie’s music some 50 years ago; the person who instilled in me my own love of music… my beautiful mother.
Except in Mom’s case, this was a first. I had been blessed enough to see Wonder’s recent Songs In The Key Of Life Tour – twice. It was the concert that in 2015 inspired me to begin this blog.
But, except for a surprise (and very brief) September 1998 parking lot appearance at the grand opening of M&T Bank Stadium where the Baltimore Ravens play and where Wonder was a last-minute stand-in for the late Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, my mother had never seen her favorite artist perform live.
That all changed during a recent visit to Windsor, Ontario, where the 68-year-old musical genius brought his “Stevie Wonder Song Party” to The Colosseum at Caesar’s Windsor Hotel and Casino. Thanks to my observant mother who during an earlier visit had noticed he was playing there, and a very resourceful little brother who lives in the area and who secured the tickets, we got to see Stevie’s musical celebration live and up close.
It was on a Tuesday evening in early November that I made the 5-hour drive from Chicago, picked up Mom who’d arrived in Detroit earlier, and crossed the tunnel to Windsor to see Stevie.
What awaited us was nothing short of an amazing show. After our musical palettes were teased for about 45 minutes by a deejay who played a bunch of funk and soul songs from the 1970s and ‘80s (later referred to by Mom as “young people’s music”) by the likes of Parliament/Funkadelic, the Gap Band, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang, Rufus & Chaka Khan and many others – Stevie took the stage.
Backed by a large entourage that included several musicians, backing vocalists, and that deejay, Wonder opened with a couple of curious selections – the album cuts “As If You Read My Mind” (from 1980’s Hotter Than July) and “Spiritual Walkers” (from In Square Circle in 1985). It was during the latter of the two that the glowing wrist bands we were given at the entrance first came to light with synchronized alternating colors.
The first “hit” Stevie performed was “Higher Ground,” his 1973 top-5 single from Innervisions. The spiritual song about rebirth couldn’t have been a more fitting part of this life celebration given it was the single Stevie had released just before his near-fatal car accident in August 1973 that briefly left him in a coma. It is legend that this was the song someone played for him at his bedside to help him come out of it.
More hits followed, including the tempo-changing “If You Really Love Me,” which Stevie did in a medley with “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.” The two songs were connected by an extended audience participation segment (YouTube video clip below) where Stevie directed the men to repeat after him “bom-bom bom-bom bom-bom-bom” to the intro melody of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.” In a surprise twist, the ladies followed – as directed by one of Stevie’s three beautiful backup singers – with a Donna Summer “Bad Girls”-styled chant “beep-beep, hey, beep-beep.” (There was no “toot-toot” here by the way.)
After the two gender groups joined forces, Stevie began the second of the two songs, extending it with a slight calypso finish.
He quickly followed “Worry” with another sing-along moment (and a personal fave), the stellar “All I Do” – the second of three tunes from Hotter Than July, the album most represented on this night.
Then came “Overjoyed,” a song included on his In Square Circle LP, but which was originally recorded for Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants. The sounds of nature used for the song’s beat, including water droplets and chirping birds, were fully intact.
There were other nicely added touches.
On “Ribbon In The Sky,” the horn section provided nice sax and trumpet solos during the song’s instrumental coda. Stevie got into the mix with a harmonica solo that included elements of “Isn’t She Lovely,” the song that was itself a celebration of life (that of his daughter Aisha).
He then turned up the tempo with the reggae-influenced Bob Marley tribute “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” the third of the three Hotter Than July songs and one that Wonder infused with elements of Marley’s own “Jammin’” during this performance.
Stevie kept the tempo fast for the two lone tracks from Songs In The Key Of Life, “Sir Duke” and “I Wish,” despite pleas from the audience to add “Isn’t She Lovely” to the set.
Three of Stevie’s best-known love songs followed: “My Cherie Amour,” “I Just Called To Say I Love You” and “Signed, Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours)” before he hit us with the jubilant “My Eyes Don’t Cry” from his 1987 album, Characters.
Stevie then returned to some social commentary for the big finish, starting with the chilling “Living For The City,” a song I’ve always credited with scaring me straight – particularly the original’s breakdown part where Stevie depicts an arrest of a young black man (that was left out of this night’s performance).
Stevie followed “City” with a sitar solo and a speech about the current state of politics and society in America (without naming names) before leading into a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” His political commentary was an interesting corollary to the criticism some levied at the show’s organizers for scheduling this concert on Election Day (in the U.S.), with much of Stevie’s liberal fan base potentially being lured away from the polls in nearby Detroit to see him perform.
That aside, the song that ended it all was his second of ten Number One Billboard Hot 100 hits, the ubiquitous “Superstition.” There would be no encore performance, no ridiculous act of leaving the stage and returning. Just Stevie and Co. jamming out on “Superstition” until the lights returned.
For those doing the math, that was 18 songs, 17 of which were Stevie’s originals plus one cover tune. I was later asked by a good friend whether Stevie did “all the hits.”
Not even close. There’s no way a man with as huge a song catalog as his (nearly 50 top-40 pop hits) could squeeze all of those into one night’s performance. Personal favorites are bound to be left out of the mix (including, for me, anything from his classic 1974 Fulfillingness’ First Finale album).
But the songs he did perform were a great cross-section of his career, and the night’s biggest gift may not have been the songs themselves, but watching the man who sang them and seeing the smile on the face of the lady seated next to me as she sang and clapped along to those hits.
Using Stevie’s vernacular, it was far from “Fulfillingness’ Finale.” It was indeed fulfillment gained… for me and for my Mom.
After all, there was no better way to celebrate the incredible union of life, love and music than with the woman who first gave me all three.
I love you, Mom. This one’s for you!
P.S. Thanks to my brother D and to his girlfriend J for the tickets. You guys are incredible!
Stevie Wonder’s Set List for The Colosseum at Caesar’s Windsor Hotel & Casino on November 6, 2018:
- As If You Read My Mind
- Spiritual Walkers
- Higher Ground
- If You Really Love Me
- Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing
- All I Do
- Ribbon in the Sky
- Master Blaster (Jammin’)/ Jammin’ (Bob Marley & the Wailers cover)
- Sir Duke
- I Wish
- My Cherie Amour
- I just Called To Say I Love You
- Signed, Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours)
- My Eyes Don’t Cry
- Livin for the City
- Imagine (John Lennon cover)