Stevie Wonder American Airlines Center, Dallas Sunday, March 22, 2015
There's something about musical legends and the month of March in Dallas. Last year we were given an almost three-hour-long performance by Bruce Springsteen ahead of the NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship Finals that was widely considered the concert of the year. Then, just last night at a packed American Airlines Center, Stevie Wonder repeated the feat.
Emotions were high in the arena: Wonder's long-time backup singer Keith John was recently hospitalized in Houston, while his former writing partner Yvonne Wright, who is battling cancer, was in attendance. Wonder not only dedicated the show to Wright, but nary a dry eye was to be found in the arena when Wright made her way on stage while Wonder performed "The Joy Inside My Tears."
It was not all heavy emotions; Wonder's delightful playfulness ignited the crowd, as his sheer joy for life was hard to not be captured by. Jumping from hit to hit, Wonder had the crowd in the palms of his considerably talented hands. There were sections of the crowd that never took a seat, those who never stopped dancing, and those who were so overcome with euphoria they seemed emotionally drained by the end of the night's almost three-hour-long concert.
It takes a lot to make an event of that length bearable. Earlier in the week it was notable how Carlos Santana failed by relying on his band to carry the show; last night was a master's lesson on how to not only make people want more, but on what it's like to see a real, legit star. Wonder is one of the few musicians of his nature to still be playing at a high level, with many of his contemporaries long passed or past their best. It's amazing to see in person.
Wonder is a master musician, easily gliding between a variety of instruments on successive songs, and capturing your full attention with his amazing voice. At an age where he's getting his own tribute special on a Big Three network it's not outlandish to say Wonder hasn't lost a step. Yet he's still throwing high heat with every performance, and we're lucky to be witness to it.
Even his banter at the end of the show, when he declared himself DJ Tick Tick Boom and played various samples before leading into "Living For the City" and "Superstition," was engrossing. We were all captivated by the playful nature of his charms, and he had us hook, line and sinker.
That being said, it's easy to look at an artist like Stevie Wonder and see him only as his legacy has been shaped by popular culture, rather than the man himself. Ever since Eddie Murphy took to the airwaves on Saturday Night Live with his famed impression, we've laughed at Wonder, and in that we robbed him of some of his power. Every "Stevie Ain't Blind" debate, while fun, further dilutes the man's legacy. We're comfortable with laid-back, loving grandparent Stevie, with happy-to-be-here Stevie, and we consequently ignore Stevie the Revolutionary.
Many of Wonder's songs are full of lyrics discussing the plight of the minority and the poor in America. He noted last night how readily applicable the lyrics to "Village Ghetto Land" are to the current political climate, despite it being 2015. It was a brief moment, but it was a powerful one.
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Wonder spent much of the show discussing faith and love, but never was the idea of turbulence facing this country far from the forefront of the subject matter. Songs in the Key of Life is at times a scathing commentary on the state of America in 1976, and honestly it rings true today.
Despite it being nearly 40 years since Wonder first wrote these songs pining for social change, the dream still eludes us. The struggle is real. The fight continues. And, at 64 years old, Stevie Wonder is still a part of it. We're lucky to have him here.
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