Friday 18 October 2019

From child prodigy to living legend: Stevie Wonder fans in for treat with 3Arena show

Stevie Wonder performing at the British Summer Time festival (David Jensen/PA)
Stevie Wonder performing at the British Summer Time festival (David Jensen/PA)
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

It has been almost a decade since Stevie Wonder last performed for an Irish audience. Before that concert at the then O2 in June 2010 it had been a whopping 26 years since he had graced our shores (around the time his Oscar-winning ballad I Just Called to Say I Love You released).

Now, with the news of his impending break from touring to undergo a kidney transplant in September, Tuesday night's 3Arena gig could prove to be his last (or one of his last) concert/s in Ireland, despite the 69-year-old's declaration that he intends to return to the road following surgery.

The show will be one of three more concerts he will perform before he takes time out.  "You don't have to hear any rumours," he explained at his sold out Hyde Park concert on Saturday, "I told you what's up."  A donor has already been lined up, he revealed.

Reviews of the Hyde Park gig have been predominantly warm thanks to a solid delivery of all the nostalgia-heavy hits fans expect from a back catalogue encompassing albums of the calbire of 1976's Songs in the Key of Life and 1972's Talking Book.

Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder

Indeed, the show was a celebration of his (mostly) 70s heydey, kicking off with As If You Read My Mind and Master Blaster (Jammin') from 1980's Hotter than July and traversing the previous decade from Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours from 1970 to Higher Ground, Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing, and Living for the City from 1973's Innervisions.

Hits from Talking Book - You and I (We Can Conquer the World), You Are the Sunshine of My Life, and Superstition - also got an airing alongside the Oscar-winning I Just Called to Say I Love You, Wonder's best-selling single ever.  Just two songs from the incredible Songs in the Key of Life featured; Sir Duke and I Wish.

Stevie Wonder and Madonna perform
Stevie Wonder and Madonna perform "Purple Rain" during the tribute to Prince at the 2016 Billboard Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., May 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

If there was one gripe amongst reviewers about the Hyde Park show, it was an interlude featuring songs from the late Michael Jackson (Billie Jean), David Bowie (Let's Dance), Amy Winehouse (Rehab) as well as covers of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Otis Redding's Respect, namely because the songs were played by a DJ rather than performed by Wonder himself.

However, he rallied following his break for the hits from Songs in the Key of Life, and a review by The Independent described his show as a "masterclass in songwriting", with a four star rating.  The Telegraph was a little less enthused with a three star review, posing the question, "is it time to retire?".

Usher (R) performs
Usher (R) performs "If It's Magic" with Stevie Wonder at the 57th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California February 8, 2015.

A prolific songwriter, Wonder has no fewer than 32 number one singles in his repertoire, has sold more than 100 million records, and has amassed 25 Grammys, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.  The notion of retirement may not sit well with a man who has been performing professionally since childhood, or the many fans who continue to attend his shows in their droves.

Born Stevland Hardaway Judkins in 1950, he was born blind, and proved something of a prodigy when it came to music, mastering the piano, harmonica, and drums among other instruments, and singing in the church choir by 11.  Two years later he had signed to Motown and had his first number one hit with Fingertips, Part 2, making him the youngest artist ever to top the Billboard chart in the US.

A string of hits ensued, including For Once In My Life and My Cherie Amour.  At 21 he left Motown and released two albums independently before signing a new Motown contract, and this resulted in arguably his most creative period with three consecutive Grammy winning albums in Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life.

By the time the latter was released, to critical acclaim in 1976, Wonder had already released 21 albums and his star continued to ascend in the early 80s following his first platinum-selling album, Hotter than July, which landed at the start of a new decade and heralded another period of massive success.

Four years later he wrote the classic I Just Called To Say I Love You for the soundtrack album for The Woman in Red, earning that Oscar in 1985.  Over the course of the next two decades the rate of solo releases slowed but Wonder worked on many collaborations with artists including Spike Lee (on the soundtrack for his 2000 film Bamboozled), Celine Dion, and Mark Ronson.  He has performed with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Usher, Pharell Williams, and the late Aretha Franklin (he also sang at her funeral).

His last solo release, A Time to Love, arrived to lukewarm reviews in 2005.  However, his legacy and impact cannot be disputed. If his 3Arena concert beats to the same drum as his Hyde Park gig, revelling in past glories and leaving that legacy in no doubt, fans are in for a real treat.

There are limited tickets remaining for The Stevie Wonder Song Party: A Celebration of Life, Love & Music at Dublon's 3Arena from TIcketmaster, priced from €99.50.  There is no support act and Stevie Wonder is on stage at 8pm.

Read more: Ahead of Dublin concert, pop legend Stevie Wonder reveals kidney transplant plan

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