There are few voices that can bring people to tears from the mere sound. As the woman behind me wept into her tissue 30 minutes into Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life Performance tour, it was clear that Mr. Wonder had one of those voices.
On Saturday night that soulful voice packed Atlanta’s Phillips Arena with people from all races and all walks of life. The electricity of anticipation wafted through the room as soon as you hit the arena.
When the 64-year-old legend finally made his way onto the stage, the applause was deafening. He was escorted by his two young sons and the beautiful India.Arie in a vibrant orange dress paired with a golden head wrap.
Wonder immediately thanked the Atlanta crowd for all his continued success as he recalled that the first plane ride he ever took to perform was from Detroit to Atlanta.
“Every experience started with you,” the Signed, Sealed, Delivered singer stated. “If I don’t know you personally, I know your heart because our hearts are connected.” He then wasted no time as he took his place behind the keys and flawlessly went into “Love’s in Need of Love Today.”
He brought Ms. Arie back out to help him sing “Have a Talk with God” and the combination of both their voices was enough to make the woman from earlier’s tissue soggy once again.
“He’s taking me to the 70s right here!” her friend screamed over her sobbing companion as she snapped to the beat. The rest of the arena seemed to share her sentiments as everyone rose to their feet for “I Wish.”
Wonder took the audience through a bevy of emotions with every song, going from missing a lover they may have never had to snuggling up to whoever was seated next to them during “Knocks Me Off My Feet.”
Before going into intermission, the singer wanted to take a poll of the audience. He told everyone who had been standing to take a seat and to only stand up if they answered “yes” to his next question.
“Do you feel that we have a gun problem in America?” he asked. The whole house stood.
“You’re able to fix the problem. If we are able to send rockets to the moon I would hope that we would have someone in the government to hold people accountable for the guns they have. I hope someone with a spirit who wants to see more people living than dying will do this because the only people making money are the gun factories and the mortuaries. I don’t care if you agree with me. I love you anyway.”
After his much-needed diatribe, he launched appropriately into “Saturn.”
A short intermission later, Wonder came back to tell the story behind the beloved, iconic “Isn’t She Lovely.”
“I just kept singing ‘isn’t she lovely’ and Yolanda kept saying ‘why do you keep singing isn’t she lovely, it’s going to be a boy.’ I said no, it’s gonna be a girl.”
At that point his beautiful daughter, Iesha, the song’s inspiration, came to join her father.
“And fellas if you looking, go blind if you ain’t got no money,” Wonder joked, pointing to his daughter, who had been singing backup.
He seemlessly transitioned into the much-awaited “Isn’t She Lovely,” while every voice in the house sang along.
“Joy Inside My Tears” followed and Wonder theatrically stopped playing his keys to raise and shake his hands while the crowd clapped and cheered.
Even when the songs from the 1976 “Songs in the Key of Life” double LP were finished, Mr. Wonder wasn’t done. And no one was complaining.
By the time he was closing with “Superstition” the audience was tired from the over three hours of concerted bliss that included surprise acts like Janelle Monae and Earl Klugh, but they still managed to jam through the final chords.
“No one can do it like you, Stevie,” the crying woman from the row behind me sighed as she got up to leave.
And she was right. There is no wonder like Stevie.