Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Weight

September 06, 2007

Wonder in San Diego
Photo: Trish Tokar/Getty Images 2007
When the opportunity came around to see Stevie Wonder play live here in LA, I wasn’t completely convinced it was something necessary for me to see. I, like most Americans, have a broad familiarity with much of his oeuvre; nevertheless, my view of his work and image is burdened by his years of movie projects, spurious duets, and “adult contemporary.” But, I went anyway. The show was at LA’s Greek Theater and I have a track record here of seeing living legends. When I first moved to LA in 1992, I saw Frank Sinatra with opening act Shirley MacLaine that cleared up a lot of my questions about those reputations, so why not?

And while the show was occasionally rambling and mired in self-indulgence, it was remarkable. This was not “Part-time Lover” Stevie Wonder, this was “Innervisions” Stevie Wonder with material drawn largely from his artistic heyday of the 1970s, and, while filled with one hit single after the next, the music and performance were awe-inspiring. This was no sentimental walk down memory lane. He played these songs with everything he’s got and he meant every word of it. There was a searing sense of timelessness to the whole evening, and at moments I felt I was watching the whole thing as if I were a child again – like I was seeing it for the first time in its original context.

As the intermissionless show passed the two hour mark, he proceeded with almost maniacal speed playing medleys of songs, each too great to be truncated to begin with, in an effort to get in all the points he wanted to make. The sense of joy was evident throughout as was the sense of rage at a world that, sadly, doesn’t look all that different now than it did at the time these songs were written. It's been a long time between live public appearances for Wonder, so it turns out this is not the show to miss.

As a side note – I returned home to the news of Pavarotti’s death, which saddened me. I won’t go on here since many others have and will write far more eloquently on the topic than I, but ironically I found this in the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on Stevie Wonder:
Opera star Luciano Pavarotti once referred to him in a concert as a "great, great musical genius."
As is always the case, it takes one to know one.

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