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Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 (A PopEntertainment.com Conc

Updated: Apr 4, 2020


Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 - Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015

Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 – Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015


Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015


It has become a pretty common for legacy artists to do tours celebrating their most classic album, literally playing the record from start to finish and then throwing in some additional non-album hits in as the encore.


Of course, in the case of Stevie Wonder, that brings up something of a conundrum.  How do you decide which platter to play when the artist has at least five or six records that are considered to be stone-cold classics?  Is Songs in the Key of Life any better than Fulfillingness’ First Finale?  Or how about Talking Book?  What about Music of My Mind or Innervisions?  Even Ma Cherie Amour or Hotter Than July? (Well, probably yes for those last two.)


You could make a very good argument that Songs in the Key of Life is not Wonder’s finest hour (though it is very, very good).  Probably the reason which it fit in was because it was a two-record set (ask your parents about what those were, kids…) and thus had a larger than normal set of songs to go through.  That said, doing all these songs goes on the hope that everyone knows and loves the album.

Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 - Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015

Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 – Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015


After all, only three of the songs (“Sir Duke,” “I Wish” and “Isn’t She Lovely”) were smash hits.  And two of those were played back-to-back about a half hour into the almost three-hour show.  On the other hand, other songs (such as “As,” “Another Star” and “Pasttime Paradise”) are relatively well-known too.  Still, that is a pretty low hit-to-filler ratio for such a long concert.


Yet, even if I personally don’t think it’s his best record, I can sort of see why Wonder wanted to revisit Songs in the Key of Life.  He was at the top of the world when that album originally came out in 1976.  He had released four straight popular and critical classics between 1972 and 1974 leading up to the album, and had won two straight Grammys for Album of the Year for Innervision and Fulfillingness’ First Finale.


Famously, when Paul Simon won the 1975 Album of the Year Grammy for Still Crazy After All These Years, during his acceptance speech he thanked Wonder for not releasing an album that year, so that he had a chance to win.  Ironically, during that year, Wonder was working on Songs in the Key of Life, which ended up winning in 1976.


Songs in the Key of Life is pretty much considered the end of Wonder’s most fertile period.  His next record was the rather inessential Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.  While he has had some fine albums since that one, very few are of the artistic level of the five albums Wonder made while in the creative sweet spot.

Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 - Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015

Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 – Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015


This is actually the second leg of Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life Tour.  He was enjoying it so much that he added on an additional 20 dates.  In fact, Wonder had performed the album live in this very same venue just last October.


However, it was well worth the repeat.


Interestingly, though, for such a musical control freak (the original albums at that point in his career were pretty much one-man-band affairs in which Wonder played almost all of the instruments), he now loves a big band.  This show employed a group of over 30 musicians and background singers, including complete horn and string sections.

Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 - Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015

Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 – Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015


This big band swung and jived and complimented Wonder’s still-supple vocals.  The show started (well, after Wonder spoke with the audience for a good five minutes at the top) with a drop-dead gorgeous version of “Love’s in Need of Love Today.”  Other highlights of the first act is a still devastatingly relevant “Village Ghetto Land” and a swinging instrumental “Contusion.”


The crowd first got to its feet as the good time horns of “Sir Duke,” Wonder’s striking tribute to Duke Ellington and old school jazz.  Everyone stayed up dancing as that song faded into the frisky childhood reminiscence “I Wish.”  Then after another stunner with “Knocks Me To My Feet,” Wonder and the band strayed from the album for the first time, doing an extended cover of The O’Jays’ “Family Reunion” (written by native Philly boys Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff) which also included snippets of “Besame Mucho” and En Vogue’s “Hold On,” as well as a long rumination by Wonder on the state of the world.


This was just one of a few times during the show where Wonder took time out to discuss his social concerns – mostly about gun control and the Black Lives Matter movement.  He also made surprisingly many little jokes about his lifelong blindness, breaking the audience up with lines like, “I don’t care if you are black, or white, or yellow, or red.  I can’t see you.”

Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 - Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015

Stevie Wonder – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 7, 2015 – Photo by Jim Rinaldi © 2015


He followed that up by standing to do another still relevant tune, “Pasttime Paradise,” which is probably best known as the song which was liberally sampled in Coolio’s '90s smash “Gangsta’s Paradise.”


After a brief intermission, Wonder returned to share “Isn’t She Lovely,” his classic tribute his then-baby girl (Wonder pointed out that she has been a grown woman for a couple of decades).  While the performance was terrific, surprisingly unlike the earlier hits, the audience did not get up to boogie to that song.  And because the second disk of Songs in the Key of Life is a bit of a comedown from the first, there were a few too many slow points in this section before he finally hit the drop dead gorgeous “As,” the second to last song on the set.


Stevie could have also probably skipped over a short section in which he called himself DJ Tick Tick Boom and spun some platters.  That time would have been better spent on some more Wonder classics.  These faves came in a rush after the encore, a stunning three-song jam pulling in some other Stevie classics, “Higher Ground,” “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” and “Superstition.”  Those near-perfect songs sent the audience out on a sustained high.


If Songs in the Key of Life was the end of Wonder’s genius period, this concert shows that the genius still holds up.


Jay S. Jacobs


Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 9, 2015.


Photos by Jim Rinaldi © 2015


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