sat 20/07/2019

Stevie Wonder, BST Hyde Park review - the Master Blaster steps out | reviews, news & interviews

Stevie Wonder, BST Hyde Park review - the Master Blaster steps out

Stevie Wonder, BST Hyde Park review - the Master Blaster steps out

Songs in the key of life - even in adversity - with Lionel Richie as warm-up act

The Wonder of it all: Stevie shows off his back catalogue

Day two of the seventh BST Hyde Park concert series, and despite darkening skies the rain held off until the last hour or so, at which point anything else would have seemed inappropriate – for Stevie Wonder was about to tell us that in September he is to have a kidney transplant. He had a donor, he would be fine, he told everyone – but there was a collective sense that we all wanted to call to say we loved him, this wonderful musician who has been with us since he was 11-year-old Little Stevie Wonder. Which is to say pretty much all our lives.

Deprived of sight, Wonder is prodigiously gifted, blessed with a beautiful voice, still pretty intact at 69, wonderful instrumental skills on piano, synthesiser (he was an early adopter), drums, harmonica and the recently developed Marcodi Harpejji, plus a songwriting ability and musical imagination that go way beyond accepted pop norms. He deserves every one of his 25 Grammys, and the rest. His song catalogue is a potent soundtrack to so many lives and, while aspects of Saturday’s concert were shambolic (a feeling of “expensive karaoke” as my cousin put it), the sound and balance appalling for the first 30 minutes or so, by the time the last notes of “Superstition” had faded into the night air it was impossible to feel anything but grateful to have spent the evening in Wonder’s company. He was joined briefly by two guests: Daley and Corinne Bailey Rae, who had already done a set of her own. Sadly, both were lost in the mix.

There were moments when Wonder seemed disoriented, songs where great chunks of lyrics were subcontracted to his backing vocalists and to the audience, lots of vamp-till-ready moments – but however much he protested that he was “all good, all good”, travelling and performance must surely take its toll on his health just now. (When he played Hyde Park in 2016, the concert lasted four hours!) Nevertheless, he was cheerful and seemingly happy to be there, and genuinely grateful to the crowd. “I love you. Thank you for all the years of supporting my music,” he declared with real sincerity, at the beginning of this “Song Party”. The band, including wind and brass, were excellent, performing with energy and conviction a two-hour set that included David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” (even though he’s never had a habit) and John Lennon’s “Imagine”. He also offered Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and Marvin Gaye's “What’s Going On?”. From Wonder’s own songbook came “You and I”, “For Once in My Life”, "Signed, Sealed and Delivered”, “Sir Duke”, “Living For the City”, “My Cherie Amour”, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and, of course, “I Just Called to Say I Loved You”.

With so many of the great names of 1960s rock are bowing out of live performance this year, it’s hard to leave a concert such as this and not worry that (to coin a phrase) this could be the last time. Stevie Wonder is at the younger end of the greats and we must hope that he makes a good recovery. Because whatever the millennials may say, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

Lionel Richie (pictured right, photo by Louise Morris), looking good at 70, was effectively Wonder’s warm-up, stepping out in a red sparkly bomber jacket with HELLO emblazoned on the back. Little Stevie was already established when Richie made his debut with the Commodores and Richie had already written three of the numbers for which he is best-known – “Easy”, “Three Times a Lady” and “Sail On” – by the time he launched his solo career in 1982.

“It’s a great day in London,” he said as he took a speculative sip of something red in a large plastic cup. Was it Rockst*r Energy Drink, a sponsor’s product? If so, Richie wasn’t impressed. “Come on y’all!” he exhorted the crowd, as he changed into a light burgundy number, inviting “the ladies” all to be Diana Ross, the real thing being unaccountably unavailable for a chorus of “Endless Love”.

More hits followed, and it felt as if we’d time-travelled back to the 1980s: “My Destiny”, “Say You, Say Me” … A disco ball was projected on to the stage. We could all remember where we were when we first heard them. Then the mood changed. “We need this song now more than ever”, said Richie, as the band started on “We Are the World”, which he co-wrote with Michael Jackson: “When you're down and out, there seems no hope at all/But if you just believe there's no way we can fall”… That seems a tad optimistic in 2019. But before the thought could detain us too long, the mood changed again, along with Richie’s jacket, and he concluded his set with “All Night Long”.

It was a fun day, live music in one of London’s great parks, in mostly clement weather. Until you remember that New York’s Central Park has been doing this for years with many of music’s biggest names – and it’s all free.

Finally, a note to the organisers: the planet is spinning toward oblivion and it would surely be nice if BST didn’t contribute quite so substantially to the vast tonnage of plastic waste that’s speeding it on its way.

Liz Thomson's website

Whatever the millennials may say, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore

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Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Comments

was your journalist actually at this concert. The sound was terrible throughout and at one stage the concert was stopped. What happened to the pre concert sound checks.

I totally agree, the sound was awful. Such a shame as it could have been such a wonderful experience - one we had all been so looking forward to! Instead we was left disappointed, trying our best to hear Stevie sing! Not good enough to be honest.

I was there throughout - and for Richie, whose sound was good. As I have written, the sound for the first part of Wonder's performance was dreadful, he completely lost in the mix - a balance problem and/or a mic not working which should have been spotted and fixed earlier. It was at times all but impossible to recognise songs. But during Corinne Rae Bailey's spot with him, I got the impression that some sort of fix took place. Whatever happened, it was markedly better from then on - though I imagine that what you heard, as with all such events, depended on where you were standing (or sitting.... those in the central wooden stand, probably over the mixing desk, having I'd guess the best sound, and view). I didn't feel the show was actually 'stopped' - though there was at least one point when Wonder seemed absent from the proceedings, but from where I stood it was impossible to see what was going on on-stage and the screen in front of me showed non-stage images. (Another problem was the shape of the stage which meant the performers were a long way back, hidden from everyone not sitting directly in front.) As to a soundcheck, I can't answer that because like many people, I left the enclosure after Richie's set to queue for a loo and a drink. I wasn't aware of hearing a soundcheck but one assumes these things are essentially tried and tested and sort-of pre-set before the audience arrives, but who knows. However, there is little excuse in this digital day and age. I was at Blackbushe in 1978 and one of the remarkable things, even then, was the sheer quality of the sound (as bootlegs demonstrate). Perhaps only the bathrooms and catering have improved since then....

Stevie and other performers were great, sound perhaps suboptimal, especially in the beginning, but I won't be going back to bat Hyde Park and pay good money as I have never seen such badly behaved public. Weeing in a bottle/ cup then throwing it around etc. Apparently this was fuelled by smuggled in drugs more than alcohol. Also the security was incredibly rude, but possibly because they had been overwhelmed by the things going on. I have been to a few big names performing, but this atmosphere was a first

So excited about going to see two singing legends at one gig. Didn't mind spending a ton of hard earned money to travel from Devon and stay in London to experience this event. However, we have been left bitterly dissapointed and just wish i'd saved my money, invited some friends around and listened to both artists on Spotify. I have never felt so let down and have been to many concerts. the sound so bad that we didn't even realise Superstition was being played until we heard some audience at the front singing it. Total waste of money and has put me off going to any music events in Hyde Park again!!!

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