Stevie Wonder Invites Dave Matthews, Pharrell Williams, Tony Bennett, & More In L.A. [Videos]

first_imgThere’s a strong case to be made that Stevie Wonder is the greatest musician who has ever walked the Earth. His combination of instrumental talent and versatility, songwriting abilities, commercial success, prolificness as a recording artist, collaborations with and influence on other artists, timelessness, and, of course, his voice all attest to this. So did his performance at the 21st edition of his (sort of) annual “House Full of Toys” holiday benefit concert, held this year at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.Stevie Wonder’s “House Full of Toys” shows are notorious for their star-studded lists of guest performers, and this year was no different. Stevie took the opportunity to showcase artists old and new before he assumed control of the night. He joined Tony Bennett, still kicking at 91, in a duet to “For Once in My Life”, then busted out his harmonica while Bennett crooned to “Left My Heart in San Francisco”. He delighted in a double dose of “Happy” with Pharrell Williams and stepped to the center to belt out “Someday at Christmas.”Stevie Wonder & Tony Bennett, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”[Video: sunnyd100]Stevie Wonder & Pharrell Williams, “Happy”[Video: Brian Ruschman]During the evening, there were also times when Stevie ceded the stage entirely—from famed saxophonist Mike Phillips’ instrumental rendition of Frankie Beverly’s “We Are One” to Dave Matthews recounting his band’s “Crazy” to Savion Glover tapping up a storm, to Andra Day and Common hitting on the pervasive theme of unity in a divided country.Dave Matthews & Stevie Wonder, “Crush”[Video: katzenheimer]The crux of the show, though, consisted of Mr. Wonder winding his way through two classic albums: Innervisions and Talking Book. Some forty-five and forty-four years since their respective releases, Stevie brought those seminal works roaring back to life with a fervor to fit a social and political climate not unlike the one that pervaded the U.S. during the early 1970s. He joked about being unable to “unring the bell” on his recordings but succeeded wildly in making old works at once relevant and rich.It wouldn’t have been a “House Full of Toys” show if he didn’t have plenty of help on his own work—and not just from musical director Rickey Minor. For Innervisions, he brought back Lani Groves and Jim Gilstrap to recreate the original vocal melange that turned “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” into a romantic romp. He pulled a similar trick for “Maybe Your Baby” with Ray Parker Jr., the original guitarist from that track, wailing through his own share of technical difficulties.Stevie also set about having his prior guests reprise their time on stage. Matthews got the prime spot as Wonder’s duet partner on “Superstition”. Once the night switched to Innervisions, Common added his own poetic take to “Visions”, and Andra Day took her turn with Stevie on “All in Love is Fair”. Pharrell was lucky enough to land two guest spots—on “Golden Lady” and “Higher Ground”—after which Wonder toyed with the idea of producing with the N.E.R.D. frontman.Stevie Wonder & Dave Matthews, “Superstition”[Video: Brian Ruschman]Stevie Wonder & Pharrell Williams, “Higher Ground”[Video: Mark Drakk]However, while the music itself was on point, throughout the show, there was an issue without the sound engineering. Time and again, the levels on microphones had to be adjusted while in use. More than a few artists were handed mics that were entirely silent. And when the sound did work, it was too often too loud for even the cavernous confines of Staples Center, to the point where the delicate signatures of Stevie’s classics were drowned out in a maelstrom of reverberation and distortion.Yet, this is one of the ways in which Wonder’s greatness strengthens its case. Despite those distractions and difficulties, despite the struggles of the sound team being all too real, and despite the show stretching well past the bedtime of most patrons, Stevie and his star-studded supporting cast managed to put on a show that was as captivating as it was nostalgic.No matter who was on stage with Stevie, no matter how big or small the star, he was the one who shone brightest, the one to whom they all gladly and gratefully deferred. Because anyone who still sounds this good and can command such a massive arena this well—without the benefit of sight or youth—has to at least be considered the Greatest Of All Time. If he isn’t already the G.O.A.T.last_img

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