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Stevie Wonder at the MEN
By Robin Chowder
I cringed a bit as I clicked 'confirm' on Ticketmaster to buy tickets for me and Mrs Chowder - not just because they were £65 a pop, plus the admin, handling, p&p bollocks (bastards). No, it was the thought of being put through the whole "ageing star knocking out his greatest hits in an arena experience" where it could have been any fat old dork like Phil Collins, Billy Joel, Elton John sat behind the piano going through the easy-listening back-catalogue with me being forced into dad-dancing for the up-tempo ones and bingo wings slowly waving aots for the ballads...
Then I thought, get a grip, this is Stevie Wonder ffs - legend. OK, so his output from the mid-80's onwards has been a bit ropy - I never rushed out to buy I Just Called to Say I Love You or Ebony & Ivory on coloured vinyl - but this is the dude who was regarded as a childhood genius on the harmonica, signed to teh Motown label at age 11, wrote and recorded a rake of soul hits in the late 60's/early 70's, co-wrote "Tears of a Clown", signed a new deal with full creative control on Motown (a first) and got all political and conscious on our asses with the stunning Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life albums, weirded out a bit with Journey through the Secret Life of Plants then came back with Hotter than July in 1980 - know what I'm sayin' ?
He also nearly died in car crash in 1973, produced 7 children, did a gig with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer when the Wailers performed together for the last time in 1975.
It's all on wikipedia if you don't believe me.
So, we rocked up at the MEN, had a quick loosener, pint for me, Vodka wotsit for Mrs C - £7 (bastards) and we get into our seats, which were the best - in the raised block on the side, really close to the stage. The lights go down and then a drone starts and a slow hand clap and Stevie walks on with his daughter Aisha (from Isn't She Lovely - yes, one would) - he says hello and then goes into an amazing harmonica jam, bit more chit-chat and one top tune followed by another with the odd slow one thrown in. There's introduce the band time - as you'd expect, all amazing musicians - a drummer and two percussionists, a sax and a trumpet (although it sounds like there's a full Earth Wind and Fire horn section going on), two guitars, two keyboards and a mean bass. There's time for a bit of politics - vote Barak people, then he whips out the vocoder and sings a bit of Fool on the Hill and Satisfaction then he and two of the band do People Make the World Go Round by the Stylistics which is just brilliant.
Then it's a singalong My Cherie Amour, You are the Sunshine of my Life and then he drops it a cog and puts his foot down and we get Superstition, Higher Ground and Living for the City all in a row and the crowd go bonkers. A few more stone cold classics follow and he starts a singalong chant "Clock on the wall says we gots to go - yeah, yeah" and a bit of So What's the Fuss and then he's literally dragged off stage by his posse and it's time to go home.
He didn't do Do I Do or Boogie on Reggae Woman, Happy Birthday or Heaven Help us All or Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away or a few other faves - but that didn't seem to matter. It was just a brilliant concert, an absolutely brilliant collection of songs sung and played superbly by a legend. I'm looking forward to boring my kids when they're a bit older that I saw him but I didn't buy a t-shirt (cos they were crap and I'd run out of cash).
If you get chance, go and see Stevie, just make sure you're near the front of the arena where the action is.