- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stevie Wonder’s sphere of musical influence stretches from Corinne Bailey Rae to Common, from Maroon 5 to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sunday night at Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion, the musician reminded the audience at his sold-out show that there ain’t nothin’ like the real thing.

The artist (born Steveland Judkins on May 13, 1950) took the crowd on a three-hour tour of his life and rhythmic times that left more than a few people misty-eyed and glowing, raving about how “awesome” it was and vowing henceforth to “spread the gospel of Stevie Wonder.”

Dubbed “A Wonder Summer’s Night,” the 13-show tour is Mr. Wonder’s first in more than 10 years. Before taking a seat at his grand piano, the artist stood before the Baltimore crowd to explain his motivations for hitting the road again after such a long absence: He lost his mother a year ago, and amidst the fog of grief, he heard her voice urging him to get himself back out there.

So here he was, thanking God and his fans (who packed the venue and clustered in boats and folding chairs just outside of it) for giving him the musical gift and support that helped him give his mother “a life that was possibly better than she would’ve had.” From those opening remarks, the evening felt very much like a family affair.

Mr. Wonder opened with “Love’s in Need of Love Today” (from his magnificent 1976 double disc, “Songs in the Key of Life”) which he sang with his daughter, Aisha Morris, one of the three backup singers and eight musicians who joined him onstage. As the duo traded lyrics (“It’s up to you ‘cause love’s in need of love today/ Don’t delay, send yours in right away”) the song proffered kinship on both a literal and metaphoric level.

With the next song, Mr. Wonder revealed the “Visions” in his mind (one of 1973’s “Innervisions,” that is) and he lit his message of universal love ablaze with an impassioned rant against war, politicians and gossipmongers in the media. “We’ve got to say ‘Stop it,’ ” he pleaded, the first of many call-and-response segments.

This Sunday night sermon came as no surprise to those familiar with the singer’s longstanding social activism. In addition to racking up dozens of awards and Top 10 hits, he has taken a stand for countless causes over the years, including supporting the Million Man March, the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the abolition of apartheid.

After a few more gritty tunes, Mr. Wonder started into a tremendous string of ballads in which he rolled out his “Ribbon in the Sky” and rode it as far as it would take him — pausing briefly several times to absorb the applause, then picking up the song’s trail again and following it into new tempos and tones.

The final portion of the show saw the soulful legend performing most of his uptempo hits — “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” “All I Do,” “Sir Duke” and “Superstition,” to name a few. The standout was “Do I Do,” during which the blind musician awkwardly crawled his way onto his grand piano and stood up for a few verses. At once vulnerable and empowered, he seemed to be situated somewhere between the human and heavenly realms — closer to God than most, yet clearly able to infiltrate the hearts of the people.

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