When you’re as famous as Stevie Wonder, you can say or do what the hell you want on stage. In front of 50,000 people in London’s Hyde Park on Sunday, Stevie took this opportunity.
He spoke with pride and determination about the abuse of black people in America, the lack of equality, how racism was prevalent in the world and how love and hope can make a difference.
He stood at the front of his stage, passionately pleading for action from every one of his fans. He encouraged us to choose love over hate. He told us all lives matter, that Black Lives Matter, and we could change the world.
He may be here as a musician playing some pretty songs from an album recorded almost half a century ago, but he wrote that album as a message against hate, corruption and racism.
“Songs in the Key of Life is still significant 49 years later, but I'm not happy about that. The words we talk about - those conditions still exist and that hurts my heart. But we can make a difference,’ he said to loving cheers. “All life does matter. The reason I see that black lives matter is we are the original people of this world. You all got some black in you; all got some soul in you. Love yourselves whatever colour you may be” ending with, “For those who don't agree. I love you, but don't give a fff.”
Following such a poignant and important start to the show, he made his way to his Rhodes, sat down, and began to play.
And he didn’t stop. For almost four hours, Stevie and his huge band of a dozen or so backing singers, brass section, strings, percussionists, classical guitars, electric guitars, two keyboardists and more played the whole of his 1976 classic, a few new songs and – albeit right at the end as a sort of short medley – some of the big hits.
It was monumental and momentous. However, it was also too long. Way too long. This wasn’t four hours of snappy six minutes R&B songs, but four hours of slightly self-indulgent slick jams of 15-minute symphonies. There would be a hiatus to hear one beautiful backing singer sing some classic Roberta Flack or another show off their note-perfect scales or another for a comedy harmonica battle featuring ‘God Save The Queen’.
It was wonderful, but it was exhausting. The winding journey you were taken on with every song meant that, somehow, the magic was lost. It lacked a bit of the wonder.
Showing off the band was fair enough – they were incredible, but the most joyous parts of this epic show were the moments you’d expect. The opening brass of ‘Sir Duke’ and ‘Pastime Paradise’ made the crowd bust with joy and sing along with such happiness (yes, the crowd did sing 'Gangster’s Paradise'), as did those opening bass bars of ‘I Wish’.
‘Isn’t She Lovely’ kicked off the second half of the show, as it did the second half of the double album, and there were hands in the air and loving hugs all round. And ‘As’ was just pure magic as the end of the show was nigh, everyone singing and dancing. But these moments were too few among two huge sets. Stevie’s original songs got lost in the middle somewhere.
He brought some brilliant lightness to the show at times, from his English accent asking for a pint to the surreal alter ego of DJ Tick Tick Boom. “Stevie has gone”, he shouted before playing two halves of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ and ‘When Doves Cry’. Just as the crowd got into it, he stopped.
The end of the show was another chance to bring home his message of love. “If we don't start doing the right thing hate will win the war,” he said. He left his crowd dancing to ‘Superstition’, clearly more of a need to play than a desire too. But, we were left feeling loved, feeling inspired, feeling passionate about his message, but feeling oh so ready for home.