- 10 Jul 19
Despite his health issues, the Motown legend conjured up a night of magic...
Stevie Wonder coming to town is always going to be a massive deal, but having announced onstage in London at the weekend that he’s about to undergo a kidney transplant, this penultimate pre-op gig of his has assumed even greater significance.
Arriving on stage to thunderous applause and cheering of the football fan variety, the man christened Stevland Hardaway Morris 69 years ago looks noticeably frailer than the last time he was here in April 2010, but still manages to perform a high energy set that fully lives up to its A Celebration Of Life, Love & Music billing.
Resplendent in a Jason-esque coat of many colours, he kicks off with the double Hotter Than July whammy of ‘As If You Read My Mind’ – the girl next to me nearly loses hers when the harp solo kicks in – and ‘Master Blaster (Jammin’), which briefly segues into the Bob Marley song of approximately the same name.
Muddy at first, the sound comes together for ‘Higher Ground’, the '70s stomper that the fledgling Red Hot Chili Peppers bonded over and later covered.
What cannot be overstated is the funkiness of his 17-piece band, which includes the bass player that other bass players call the Guv’nor, Nate Watts. As for those drummers, well, they really don't come any more wicked.
A tender rendition of the song he produced all those years ago for Minnie Ripperton, 'Loving You', and a frisky 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours' reminds us that Stevie, the father of nine, is also a ladies' man.
Frankly, we could do without the mid-set disco interlude - Marvin, Prince, Bowie, Aretha etc. - presided over by a hypemaster DJ who's timewarped in from Studio 53 1/2. The majority of people around me, including that previously very excited girl, take this as their cue to go to the bar/have a pee/watch paint dry. We're rescued from this purgatory by 'Sir Duke', which features one of Stevie's strongest vocals of the night.
After his six incredible singers all get to do their party pieces, it's into the home straight with 'My Cherie Amour', a warm summer breeze of a song with some of the best la-la-las in the world.
While the Stateside introduction of Martin Luther King Day means that he’s retired ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Living For The City’s' story of a black man being wrongfully imprisoned is a reminder of the civil rights background its author comes from. It’s also a serious banger of a tune.
I’m one of those people who find ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ overly saccharine on record, but belted out by 14,000 willing backing singers and given a bossa nova lilt it’s positively life-affirming.
Given the extent of his back catalogue, there's really no need for the noodly instrumental cover of 'Mrs. Robinson'. More successful is his emotionally-charged take on 'Imagine', which does the Lennon boy proud.
Finally getting to hear 'Superstition' live is one of those bucket-list moments, which is going to take a few days to properly process.
With his past history of overcoming adversity, you’d reckon on him being back in action sooner rather than later, but if this is to be Stevie Wonder’s last Irish show, what a fan-fucking-tastic way to bow out!