Why you’ll never go wrong with the classics
Maybe the best way to review Stevie Wonder’s show at Dublin’s O2 the other night is to simply run through the setlist. “Uptight”, “Master Blaster”, “Signed Sealed Delivered”, “Living for the City”, “Fingertips”, “Higher Ground”, “For Once in My Life”, …
Maybe the best way to review Stevie Wonder’s show at Dublin’s O2 the other night is to simply run through the setlist. “Uptight”, “Master Blaster”, “Signed Sealed Delivered”, “Living for the City”, “Fingertips”, “Higher Ground”, “For Once in My Life”, “If You Really Love Me”, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”, “Superstition”, “Happy Birthday” and, yes, even “I Just Called to Say I Love You”: you didn’t have to wait very long for a stone cold classic to come your way. Sure, there were odd bits and pieces when Stevie unleashed a few ballads from the less well-received parts of his career (ie anything since 1980), but you could always go for a walk around the venue and take in the view when he played those ones.
What Wonder’s show proved was that you will never go wrong with the classics. That’s why 13,000 people barrelled down to the docklands last Thursday evening, that’s why Wonder was top of the bill when Glastonbury wanted to put a cap on its 40th outing last night, that’s why Wonder could probably come back here in a few years time and do it all over again. Everybody loves a classic, but not everyone knows how to write one.
Or play one. That’s another element of Wonder’s show which deserves a paragraph of its own. Wonder has a superduper band with him on this tour, a bunch of seasoned pros who knew where to take those songs, when to embellish and emphasise the hooks and how to keep the whole thing trucking and everyone smiling. Any over-elaborate jazz-funk wigouts were thankfully put to one side.
Then, there was Wonder himself. From walking onstage banging away on his Roland shoulder synthesizer (which, we hear, he’d been playing around the venue all day) to the helium gag he used to pass himself off as Little Stevie Wonder for “Fingertips”, he reminded you that he was the Motown label’s in-house practical joker. But there were always many (many) reminders of the amazing musician, songwriter and performer who blazed a trail through the Sixties and Seventies. The dude still has it.
Quibbles? The sound could have been louder and the gig ended abruptly (did he say that was his last tune?), but these are quibbles rather than reasons to ring Joe to complain and tell a yarn about a woman walking around Maynooth with two light sabres under her oxter. Stevie delivered and we hollered along. We go exactly what we were after and probably some more besides. Smiles all round in Dublin 1 afterwards.
That wasn’t the only musical performance of the weekend, though. It was a busy aul’ weekend for the gigs up and down the land and on the telly. I didn’t make it to Cork for the Harmonic bash (more light sabre issues), but I did make it to my sittingroom for Glastonbury on the telly. Between the BBC’s coverage on the box and the Guardian’s coverage online, the casual observer was well sorted without having to put up with smelly hippies, the middle-classes slumming it or Kate Moss.
Some sundry soundbites from the sofa: it was probably not a great idea, in hindsight, to replace U2 with Gorillaz (the former have classics, whether you like them or not, while the latter have great visuals, two great songs and only a handful of live shows under their sailor hats). Muse are the most bombastic and hillarious thing I’ve encountered since the Fianna Fail general election campaign in 2002. When did Snoop Dogg become everyone’s favourite west coast gangsta? Plan B’s new soul schtick is even worse than his hip-hop persona used to be. Does anyone know if Orbital bought a job-lot of those lamp things back in the day? Rodrigo and Gabriela have come a hell of a long way from busking on Grafton Street and fair play to them. Zane Lowe is not a great TV performer, poor lad. Mumford & Sons look and sound like the musical manifestation of the Tory/LibDeb coalition. Scissor Sisters and Kylie Minogue together (not to mention Pet Shop Boys too) showed that Glasto could also do totally fabulous. Michael Eavis never seems to get old.
Away from the sofa, one of my favourite acts of the last year The Middle East played to a sold-out Sugar Club on Saturday night. A full house, then, expecting one of those performances you’ll be talking about for years to come. A full house who were there to will a great show. A full house who were, so to speak, gagging for it.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you? The show didn’t quite deliver the aces in the same way as the two gigs I saw TME play back in March at SXSW. Back then, even within the confines of a festival where you were lucky to get a line-check, TME provided magic and intrigue. In Dublin, it was all rather flat by comparison. The sound was appalling (the band were relying on the house sound-engineer which can often turn out to be a fatal error) and a lot of the newer songs didn’t quite carry the same emphatic oomph of the songs from that fabled EP. Naturally, “Blood” and “The Darkest Side” elicited the biggest hurrahs of the evening, but there was very little in the rest of the set which came anywhere close to those heights. Instead, songs meandered and stumbled along, without ever hitting you between the ears. The last song, in particular, seemed to go forever as the band appeared to have forgotten how to end it. Underwhelming was the word I’d use to describe the night.
Afterwards, I heard that the band have scrapped a lot of the recordings for their forthcoming debut album and are planning to get stuck in again after this European tour comes to an end. It will be interesting to know where their heads are at when that process is compleyed. They’ve spent most of this year touring like bejaysus so maybe all that touring is making them itch for another way of going onwards and upwards. Let’s mark Saturday night down as a bad day at the office. After all, it takes time to come up with the classics.