Concert Reviews

Stevie Wonder at Outside Lands: San Francisco gets life lessons from the School of Wonder

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Christopher Victorio
Stevie Wonder himself is sweet, full of love, indisputably virtuosic and somehow completely human. He scolds the audience for talking during a slower moment of his set, and then puts on a smirk that assures the scoldees that his universal and unconditional love still applies. He pours heaps of praise on his children the only way a father can, before singing a song written for his daughter Aisha ("Isn't She Lovely"), who sings background vocals in his band. The most human moment comes just after, as he first praises the joy of having children, then pauses and says winkingly, "and what a wonderful way to have them!" This, of course turns into another sing-along, as he leads everyone in a quick chorus of "making children is good good good," beaming over the newest lesson in the School of Wonder.

The most poignant of the political lessons comes as the introduction to "Living for the City," about the difficulties of moving up in world, or even surviving, as a poor man, facing a cold, cruel and racist America. Here, Wonder lets the bass throb for just a moment and cuts it off, saying, "We can never ever let it get like this in America again." For those who never knew the world of that song, it hits deep.

The most powerful singalong comes at the end, as an encore. Wonder emerges to triumphant cheers from the crowd. It's graduation time. He wants to play a Beatles song, but can't remember how it goes, and hopes that the crowd can help. He hums a bit to himself, then calls out to his band, "E minor! A! C! G!" Suddenly they all start playing -- it's "She Loves You," but no one knows any more words than Stevie. He shuts it down, and picks a song everybody knows: "My Girl." Here he directs, without singing a single word. And there on the Polo Fields, tens of thousands of people let the American treasure know that he's taught us well. San Francisco sings, "I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day."

Critic's Notebook

School of Wonder: Master Class: He's still learning how to play completely new musical instruments. He used a Marcodi Harpejji, a 24-string tapping instrument for a blues jam of Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do," though he only first saw the instrument in January.

The Band: Turns on a dime. One of the tightest this side of the J.B.'s

The Highlight: Just before the last chorus of the unsurpassable "Superstition," Wonder shouts, "Everybody scream!" And we do.

Setlist on next page

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Cody B. Nabours
Contact: Cody B. Nabours