Review: Stevie Wonder leaves Lake Tahoe ‘Overjoyed’

Tahoe Onstage
Stevie Wonder performs Sept. 2 at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys.
Jim Grant / Harrah’s and Harveys for Tahoe Onstage
He didn’t have to play. It would have been well within reason as an artist, performer and entertainer to cancel the show on account of being sick. But he didn’t. Stevie Wonder, one of the last bastions of iconic artistry, fought through obvious issues with his throat and vocal chords to deliver a stirring and jam-packed, two-hour set of his many classics, covers and even a couple of surprising deep cuts. The “Evening with Stevie Wonder,” as it was billed, began with the crowd of more than 7,000 at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys rising to its feet as Wonder was guided onstage. Not a note had been played nor had the crowd been prompted, yet we all rose as if Wonder was some almighty amalgam of worldly judge and peace-promoting preacher. And shoot, maybe he is.
Stevie Wonder
Jim Grant / Harrah’s and Harveys for Tahoe Onstage
After a brief introduction that included some not-so-subtle shots at Donald Trump, “before we start I just need all of you to know that America already is great and will only get greater,” he was off to the races with a focused string of hits. “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me,” “Master Blaster,” “Higher Ground,” “Sir Duke” and “I Wish” were only the first five songs he played with the crowd erupting at the opening notes of each; his focus, energy and enthusiasm were palpable. He commanded his 12-member band — his disciples in soul — through the tunes in front of a still standing crowd before slowing things down with the “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” deep cut “Bird Of Beauty.” Between songs, Wonder’s speaking voice was getting noticeable raspier until he could hardly talk. His repeated pulls from a mixture of water, cayenne pepper and honey seemed to be the only thing keeping the show going. And on it went. After his particularly gravelly attempt at bantering with the crowd, I found myself wondering if he would be able to continue the performance but ever the consummate performer, he dove solo into an instrumental version of John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” and asked the crowd to sing the chorus. “You know, this song is almost 50 years old,” he said, “but there are still some people who just don’t get it.” He coughed away from the mic before returning to his makeshift sermon “It’s our job as human beings to help them ‘get it,’ you know?” The piano melody of the Lennon hit slowly morphed into one of the show’s greatest highlights, the “In Square Circle” ballad “Overjoyed.” Any thought as to whether or not he’d be able to finish the show flew from my mind as he soared through the arrangement with a series of vocal acrobatics. The hits kept coming, from “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” to “Living For The City” to “My Cherie Amour,” as Wonder worked his way through his impressive catalogue of material until making his way over to the harpejji (a 16-stringed instrument that lays in front of the performer like a keyboard) and gave the band a work out in improvisation as he jumped from hit to hit, chorus to chorus, calling out keys and figuring out chords on the spot, “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “My Girl,” Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and more were all touched on. He gave his voice another break with a short DJ set honoring the incredible musicians that we’ve lost recently. Playfully referring to himself as DJ Chick-Chick-Boom, he played chunks of songs by Funkadelic, The Eagles, Prince, David Bowie, B.B. King and more before returning to his keyboard for the closer “Superstition.” Throughout the set, Wonder’s talent beamed as it has for his entire 50-plus year career, but it was his ability as a frontman and bandleader to blend humor with socially conscious subject matter with loads of hit songs — all while working through issues with his voice — that provided such an incredibly unique evening of entertainment. There is no other like him and there never will be. In addition to helping those who don’t “get it,” our job as human beings is to celebrate the great artists on this earth while they’re here. And there is perhaps none greater than Stevie Wonder.

– Spencer Kilpatrick

  • Stevie Wonder Sept. 2, 2016 Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys 1. Did I Hear You Say You Love Me 2. Master Blaster (Jammin’) 3. Higher Ground 4. Sir Duke 5. I Wish 6. Bird of Beauty 7. Overjoyed 8. Ribbon In the Sky 9. Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing 10. Saturn 11. Signed, Sealed, Delivered 12. My Cherie Amour 13. DJ Tick Tick Boom’s medley 14. Superstition
 
Stevie Wonder
Jim Grant / Harrah’s and Harveys for Tahoe Onstage
Stevie Wonder
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

ABOUT Spencer Kilpatrick

Spencer Kilpatrick
Author Spencer Kilpatrick graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in English. He hates the Lakers and his top three emcees are Blu, Earl Sweatshirt and Nas.

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3 Responses

  1. First of all, I love Stevie Wonder. This was not my first Stevie Wonder concert. I saw him 30 years ago and he was fabulous! But, unfortunately, I have to say I was very disappointed in his concert. I’m sorry that he was suffering with cough and throat issues, but I was looking forward to hearing Stevie Wonder sing all of my favorites and his greatest hits. On a positive note, he was very personable and friendly with the audience. I realize he was trying to save his voice, but he would start one of his songs and then stop singing and let the audience sing the song. I wasn’t there to hear the audience sing his songs, the medley was nice, but I was there to hear Stevie sing his hits, the voice lesson for the “men” in the audience and the “ladies” in the audience was wasted time, while he and the male singer on the stage were singing Saturn and a song recognizing the Olympics, I would have preferred him singing “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, “Part-time Lover,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” “You are the Sunshine of my life,” “Fingertips,” “For Once in My Life,” etc. I was waiting and waiting and hoping to hear these songs, but it never happened. I was sure with the great enthusiasm from the audience that there would be an encore! The crowd was on their feet for most of the performance and trying to get as much singing out of him as possible, but when he said good night that was it! Even though the audience was standing and cheering and begging for more, there was no more. I left disappointed.

    1. Oh no!!! Let’s dive into this.

      -You’re kicking this off by saying that an entertainer who recently turned 66 put on a better concert 30 years ago than he did last week. Think about that.

      -I know it’s not on the set list but he did play “For Once In My Life.”

      -After the first five songs the audience was a dumpster fire. I knew what I was getting into by going to Harveys in the first place but I was still appalled by how much of the crowd talked through his set, only shutting up to sing the choruses (poorly) and sip on their $12 beers. There were so many yuppies in the audience it was like Whole Foods was having a sale on Patagonia and white privilege.

      -This next part is really all that matters. Just because artists like Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones are legendary with loads of hits it doesn’t mean that they aren’t still artists. These are still people who play songs to, first and foremost, communicate. We should celebrate the fact that Wonder still gets genuine joy out of improvisation and experimentation with his band. After all, he’s a musician, not a flesh-covered jukebox programmed to replicate whatever basic Spotify playlist you’ve been humming along to lately.

  2. I don’t normally comment in these forums – but I have to say, as a life-long Stevie fan, and having seen him several times in concerts large and small, this was a very special “Evening” under the stars at Lake Tahoe. I travelled from UK, my sis organised the tickets and drove 4.5 hours to get us there, and I am so grateful she did. I was most impressed and thankful that given Stevie was struggling with throat problems he didn’t cancel (like many other stars would have). That would have been more disappointing. Stevie has an amazingly extensive back-catalogue across decades and he’s not going to be able to play everything, and therefore please everyone – but he’s definitely entertaining, a consummate professional and I love that he shows the comedic playful side of his character more and more in his shows. I loved that he could play music from the 60s, 70s, 80s 90s plus – and make it sound fresh – including the DJ Chick Chick Boom Boom stint celebrating other stars’ music – and the crowd singing just showed how much they appreciated it too. Being a Brit – I also wanted an encore, but to be fair, with his cough and throat issues, when he did sing he was crystal clear and pure Stevie. I left -and still am- elated. Excellent write up Spencer.

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