Signed, Sealed, Inspired

Sampling from the full breadth of his songbook, Stevie Wonder shows why he's had so many hits in a four-decade career. But his fans at Pier Six already knew that.
Sampling from the full breadth of his songbook, Stevie Wonder shows why he's had so many hits in a four-decade career. But his fans at Pier Six already knew that. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 18, 2007


When your head hurts from two hours of noise -- that's a rock concert.

When your face hurts from two hours of smiling -- that's a Stevie Wonder concert.

The iconic singer delivered an awe-inspiring performance to more than 4,000 beaming fans gathered beneath the tent of Pier Six Pavilion on Sunday night, bouncing through his catalogue with the joyful abandon of a hundred Christmas mornings.

Wonder's singing was so electrifying, so ecstatic, people had no choice but to smile, smile, smile. (Side note: Why hasn't Canon developed a camera that plays "My Cherie Amour" before the shutter clicks?)

Perched behind his keyboards in a periwinkle tunic, the 57-year-old singer looked like Buddha in shades and braids as he romped through a set of tunes that nearly spanned his entire career -- from 1969's "My Cherie Amour" to 2005's "So What the Fuss." On the tail end of his first tour in 10 years, Wonder relished the spotlight, bantering between revelatory hits such as "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" and "You and I (Can Conquer the World)" as if he were chitchatting with a small group of friends.

In Baltimore, that circle included fans of all ages -- older folks and teenagers alike, dancing to a timeless songbook that's yielded more than 30 Top 10 hits and 25 Grammy Awards. Even with his most productive musical years long behind him, Wonder's appeal today still feels universal.

His career began at the age of 12 when he signed with Motown as "Little Stevie Wonder." In his early 20s, Wonder dropped the "little" and started thinking big, penning some of the most vibrant records in pop history. Landmark albums including 1972's "Talking Book," 1973's "Innervisions" and 1976's "Songs in the Key of Life" tempered Wonder's social-minded politics with a sense of transcendent optimism.

Thirty years later, Wonder still has politics on his mind. "This world is a wonderful place, but some of the people on it are driving me crazy!" the singer shouted over the finale of "Visions." His eight-piece band inflated the wistful groove into a full-bodied bluster as Wonder urged "world leaders" to "stop the war! Stop the hatred!"

After that, a spectacular version of "Living for the City" brought the crowd to its feet with a soulful jolt. If the gusts of wind sweeping in from the Inner Harbor weren't enough to give you goose bumps, hearing Wonder charge through this tune probably did the trick.

And it got better.

"Y'all sing!" Wonder shouted during the opening chords of "My Cherie Amour," causing the audience to go completely gaga over the tune's "la-la-la-la-la-la" refrain. Is there anything more life-affirming than hearing a cast of thousands crooning one of the greatest love songs ever written at the top of their lungs?

How 'bout watching them dance to one of the funkiest dance tunes ever written? Wonder's voice might not sound as clean as it did when he recorded "Superstition" in 1972, but surprisingly enough, it sounded more powerful. To top things off, the singer bellied up to a drum kit for the song's percussive finale, slapping out a beat reminiscent of D.C. go-go. It made for the funkiest passage of the night -- barely edging out a particularly juicy version of "Higher Ground" from earlier in the set.

Wonder found some higher ground of his own during his climactic rendition of "Do I Do." With the help of three backup singers, he climbed on top of a grand piano to belt out the song's infectious stop-and-go chorus -- and to shake his groove thing.

Of course you couldn't help but smile.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company