At this point in his legendary career, all Stevie Wonder has to do is play “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” and the crowd can’t help but comply -- especially on a perfect summer night at the Hollywood Bowl.
On Monday, the singer-songwriter led his followers toward an almost religious transcendence as a soft violet dusk slipped over the Bowl, the roiling audience of nearly 18,000 constantly clapping their hands and swaying in unison, and the aptly named Wonder showcasing the bottomless depth of his talent and songbook for two hours.
Backed by a full orchestra, a massive band that included three different drummers and, at times, three of his children, the 58-year-old Motown native ran through a greatest hits set that elucidated why he’s sold more than 150 million records over the course of his five-decades-long career.
By now, the figure of Wonder performing is ingrained in the American consciousness, and his concert at the Bowl elicited few surprises. Yet, for the visionary there was no need to rely on gimmickry or histrionics.
Clad in a summery white suit, large gold chain dangling from his neck, the ever-optimistic Wonder mixed in an endorsement of Barack Obama and pleas for America to come together with an impassioned rendering of his discography, including a poignant version of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which Obama adopted as one of his earliest campaign theme songs.
Hovering over his piano and clavinet, breaking only to deliver skittering harmonica licks, Wonder seemed as mystically attuned to the vibrations of the cosmos as ever, snapping his trademark braids, angling his sunglasses toward the sky and absorbing the waves of energy whipping around the Bowl.
While some of his songs can tilt toward the overly sentimental, in person, Wonder’s undeniable sincerity and good nature couldn’t help but win over even the most dedicated cynic.
Perpetually wearing a bright smile, Wonder’s grin grew biggest when accompanied by his children -- particularly during his daughter Aisha Morris’ solo performance of the jazzy standard “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right out of My Life.” Wonder followed that up by crooning “Isn’t She Lovely,” the song he wrote for her when she was a newborn more than 30 years ago.
Even his second youngest son, 6-year-old Kailand Morris, got in on the act, drumming along to the set’s final numbers.
But for the enraptured crowd, the highlights were undoubtedly the staples they’d grown up on -- the tunes from Wonder’s 1970s glory period: “Superstition,” “Livin’ for the City,” “Golden Lady,” “Higher Ground” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” the sort of songs that figure to float around the American consciousness for decades to come.
His first performance at the Bowl since ending a 12-year touring hiatus last fall, Wonder’s return was a resounding success, a masterful turn from one of the greatest musicians to ever grace the venerable venue.