Thursday, May 27, 2010

Live and Direct: Living for the City Concert featuring Stevie Wonder; Verizon Center; 5-26-10

When The Missus told me she snagged a couple of extra tickets to see Stevie Wonder last night, i was pumped. He's clearly one of the greatest musician/performers of our lifetime, the type of cat one should see if ever the opportunity arises. When i checked out his and the VC's websites and neither mentioned the event, however, i feared perhaps The Missus had been misinformed, and that we would in fact be going to see the world's greatest drag Stevie Wonder impersonator or some such thing. Turns out, Stevie wasn't in town for the latest stop on an on-going tour, but was chosen to headline an event sponsored by the Pollin family to say "thanks" to both VC employees and DC civic workers called, "Living For the City."

Except for the roped off VIP area (read: the entirety of the floor where the ice normally would go at Caps games), there was no assigned seating, so folks just kind of meandered to where ever they felt like it. i've been to a lot of big venue concerts, and i can honestly say, i've never experienced a more cordial crowd in my life.

The evening kicked off with not-quite-brief statements from the Pollin family. It was their party, and the crowd was more than willing to applaud just about every time someone paused to take a breath, regardless of what had just been said. While it was a nice gesture from the house, it had the unintended effect of dragging the start of things out unnecessarily.

Once Stevie took the stage, however, all was forgotten as the man proceeded to put on a two-hour-plus review of how to rock the house. He dipped into a catalogue even deeper than i realized he had. While the hits were obvious ("My Cherie Amour;" "Signed, Sealed, Delivered;" "As;" "Sir Duke;" "I Wish"), he played some lesser knowns ("Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing") and at least one or two i couldn't place at all. For covers, he did a Motown Medley that included "Heard It Through the Grapevine" and then later the blues standard, "Further On Down the Road." Each one, though, he knocked out of the park.

Interestingly enough, he did not sing "Living for the City," the song for which the event was named. What can you do?

While he complained of a sore throat and required a hot tea towards the end, the man still has a honey-drenched voice that can hit highs and lows like a champ. Equally impressive, Stevie has a smile that is more contagious than any i've ever seen. When he flashed the pearly whites, you could feel the happy factor in the room rise noticeably.

Towards the end of the evening, following the obligatory "having two audience members sing on-stage with the Master," special guest Frederic Yonnet came on-stage. The two dueled on harmonica for a bit, and while Stevie arguably could have allowed Yonnet a bit more time to show off his skills, everyone knew why the crowd was there in the first place, so no blood, no foul. It's a shame, though, as Yonnet's played with everyone including Prince lately, and i would have loved to hear some more of his chops. Oh well, there's always next time.

It was mentioned at the start of the evening that the entire affair had been thrown together in three weeks time, and it the roughness around the edges did show occasionally. It was clear Wonder was doing a private show that had not gone through full rehearsals, as cues were missed and the mic-ing wasn't too hot on all the players. However, he's clearly played with those cats for a while and was comfortable seemingly without a playlist, simply playing whatever suited him and/or what the crowd requested.

On a down note, apparently some 1,500 tickets were stolen prior to the show, and Stevie was so pissed he essentially ended the show saying he'd pay $5000 of his own money if anyone had any information that lead to an arrest. Now, i got my ticket from The Missus' friend, spinner extraordinaire, the incomparable Miz Schooley, who happens to work for the Metro, and hence our in, furnished our tickets. Seriously, though, stealing from a charity event for the community? Not cool, dude. Not cool at all.

The rest of the affair, however, was thrown with panache and good will. That's the kind of thing that makes DC a great place to live in, so a tip of the hat to the Pollins for making it happen. And that's one more name i can take off of my "Must See" list. Which is nice.

mp3: As (Stevie Wonder from Songs in the Key of Life)

mp3: Living for the City (Stevie Wonder from Innervisions)

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