Because I’m covering the Stevie Wonder concert Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena, the boss asked me to pick six reasons to be excited about his appearance.
He’s such a part of the musical world in which I grew up that it’s hard to limit myself to half a dozen; I was 8 when “Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius” topped the Billboard charts in August 1963. (Here’s a snapshot of that time: It replaced Andy Williams’ “Days of Wine and Roses” and was replaced by the comedy album “My Son, the Nut” by Allan Sherman.)
But here we go:
1) Predictability. He’s on a “Songs in the Key of Life” Performance Tour, and he has been performing that 1976 album intact – including the special 7-inch EP inserted into the two-LP set – at the top of the show. Sometimes he throws a twist into the lineup: Last month in St. Louis, he did “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a medley of “Overjoyed,” “Yesterday” and “People Get Ready” between the scheduled cuts.
2) Unpredictability. What he does after the album, when he transforms into DJ Tick Tick Boom, can consist of two songs or nine. Sometimes he dips briefly into the early Motown catalog (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered”); sometimes he borrows from other artists (McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”). Sometimes he does a song based on the locale; he sang “Kansas City” in Kansas City. I wonder if he realizes James Brown recorded “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in Charlotte....
3) The energy. At 65, he’s the youngest of the great pop artists from the 1960s still touring with a full show. He has been known to do up to 31 numbers (including medleys) on this tour, running an evening over three hours. (When you hear “Superstition,” he’s almost certainly done.)
4) Possible guest stars. India Arie, Nelly, Ed Sheeran and Wonder’s daughter Aisha (dueting with Dad on “Isn’t She Lovely,” the song written for her) have joined him at different times. He brought The Skyliners onstage to help with their beautiful doo-wop song “Since I Don’t Have You” when he played their native Pittsburgh.
5) The band. He’s touring with a massive ensemble and six backup singers, which means he should be able to reproduce almost any sound he wants us to hear. In Washington, D.C., a reviewer noted the addition of “French musician Frederic Yonnet, perhaps the only man able to match Wonder on harmonica.” Where else will you see dueling mouth harps?
6) Scarcity. Other than this trip, he has headlined in Charlotte just once this century: He played the same venue in 2007. He’s on the last leg of the current tour, which ends Nov. 24 in New York. Who knows when – or if – he will ever hit the road again?
P.S. Here’s a seventh reason to be glad he’s here: He nearly died in 1973 outside Salisbury, when a Mercury driven by his cousin rear-ended a flatbed truck on Interstate 85. He was headed north from a concert in Greenville, S.C., to one in Durham – which I was planning to attend.
Wonder was taken to N.C. Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, where he spent two weeks recovering. Wonder reportedly opened his 2008 concert at Raleigh’s RBC Center by thanking those doctors for saving his life.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, 333 E. Trade St.