Formula 1 Music: Stevie Wonder
The master blaster signed, sealed, and delivered
By Alejandra Ramirez,
11:15AM, Mon. Oct. 23, 2017
“Not to get political, because I don’t like to do that,” lamented Stevie Wonder, who had something to get off his chest before a two-hour performance following the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of Americas on Sunday night. “I have never seen the color of my skin, nor have I seen yours, [but] we’re all in a race – a race against time.”
Detroit’s greatest prodigy, 67, concluded with a charged proposition that set the tone for the evening:
“It’s time for the leader of this nation and the leaders in the various political positions that they hold, and we as artists to all come together as the United States of America in a state of unity to move the planet toward a positive forward.”
Wonder then slid into his rightful throne behind a stack of keyboards and beside a grand piano, and dug through his catalog, delivering a cache of musical treasure spanning key Seventies Motown Records triumphs including Signed, Sealed & Delivered (1970) and magnum opus Songs in the Key of Life (1976) to Eighties sizzlers like Hotter Than July (1980) and In Square Circle (1985).
“Ra-ta-ta-tat,” exclaimed Wonder, emulating and cuing the drummer to begin the syncopation rhythms of Bob Marley ode “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” which opened the show.
Fervid drums and brass burst into technicolor reggae that coalesced with intricate musicianship and Prince-seeding modality. Ushered in next by wah-wah clavinet glory, “Higher Ground” trumpeted staccato horns, sinewy bass, and strutting funk as Wonder lurched forward to fervent timbres jolting his vocal acrobatics as he challenged the backup singer to match his runs.
With 13 musicians onstage, he wore the mantle of big band maestro with natural sovereignty, leading the band into robust improvisations as well as subtle instrumentation. Touching off electric salsa rhythms, timbales and conga splashes, and soaring three-part harmonies on “Don’t You Worry About a Thing,” Wonder wrangled an explosive sprawl with only the wave of a hand. Switching to a harpejji, something of a cross between a keyboard and harp, the world-famous multi-instrumentalist steered into a raw, distorted blues shuffle before launching into his first-ever performed rendition of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”
Wonder’s genius as a performer manifests between sociopolitical commentator (“Higher Ground” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which was reborn after the 2008 and 2012 elections) and hopeless romantic (“My Cherie Amour,” “Do I Do”). Blissful moments like brass pomp precipice “Sir Duke” and slow-burned vocal runs on “Overjoyed” and the elegant “Ribbon in the Sky” preceded a sing-along on John Lennon’s “Imagine” that transitioned into his chromonica-driven “Star Spangled Banner” second to last. As he brought the stream-of-consciousness, jazz-phrased National Anthem to a close, Wonder was brought to both his knees in solidarity with protesters and NFL players.
“Ya feel me, Mr. President?,” he asked.
As expected, the singer ended with a 10-minute funk spasm called “Superstition” and thanks to his diverse band of stellar African-American, Latin American, and Asian-American musicians. In joining his four backup singers to dance and revel, Stevie Wonder, in sendoff mode, defined all 19 songs signed, sealed, and delivered:
“A celebration of life, love, and the spirit of music.”