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Concert Reviews:
Despite Chill, Stevie Delivers A Wonder-ful Night At Meadow Brook
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- The title of Stevie Wonder's A Wonder Summer's Night Tour was tested on Wednesday (Sept. 12) at the Meadow Brook Music Festival.

Though technically still summer, the air had dipped into the chilly 50s by the time the Motown icon and his 11-piece band began playing music nearly an hour after the advertised 8 p.m. start time. It felt more like fall leaning towards winter, but Wonder and company warmed things up with a temperature-transcending two-hour and 40-minute, one-act Motortown Revue that covered a wide span of Wonder's 45 years of recording -- and even some ground before that.

In other words, it was the kind of Wonder-ful night one would hope for and even expect from his first tour in more than a decade and his first Detroit area appearance since 2001. He can certainly play in Los Angeles or Chicago or New York, but it was easy to see that coming home to the Motor City, where he can toss of street names and other references with casual, conversational ease, energized Wonder in an entirely different and more profound way.

The show did simmer before it really started to cook, however. Telling the packed crowd of 7,000 at the Oakland University amphitheater that it was "truly my honor to be back here in Detroit," Wonder explained the impetus for the tour -- to honor his mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, who passed away in May of 2006 -- before he and his daughter and backup singer Aisha Morris sat at his keyboards for "Love's in Need of Love Today," with the rest of the band coming in for the second verse.

He then proceeded to mix hits ("Livin' For the City," "Master Blaster (Jammin')," "Higher Ground") with a generous selection of more obscure fare from his catalog, including "Too High," "Visions" and "Golden Lady." But a mid-show slowdown was both beautifully performed and a bit challenging to sit through, as Wonder conducted a long vamp through "Ribbon in the Sky," complete with audience participation, and continued to dip deep into his song pile for surprises such as "Girl Blue," "Rocket Love," "You and I" and "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer," "Hey Love" and "Place in the Sun." It was choice stuff for the aficionados but a restless stretch for those who wanted the hits.

They certainly got them, however. The final third of Wonder's show was a buoyant house party -- in a spacious and wall-less house. There were guests, too -- Detroit trumpeter Dwight Adams and Detroit-born keyboardist Greg Phillinganes (now with Toto), both of whom have logged time in Wonder's bands over the years. Songs were stopped and started seemingly at whim, and the energetic medley kept everyone on their feet as the Wonder crew served up a greatest hits parade of "For Once in My Life," "Isn't She Lovely," "Sir Duke," "I Wish," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Superstition," Little Willie John's "Fever" -- sung by his son Keith John, who's one of Wonder's backup singers -- "Part-Time Lover," "Boogie On Reggae Woman" and "Do I Do."

Wonder closed things on a home town note, bringing longtime friend and early musical partner John Glover and his sister Margaret onstage for a tribute and then urging the audience to promote peace, love and harmony in their lives -- and battle those who don't. After the show he noted that "we do a prayer every night, so I just really wanted to give my very best."

On Wednesday, that prayer was most definitely answered.



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