It would have been very easy to turn a concert dedicated to Stevie Wonder’s music into a collection of greatest hits.
When I was listening to Spotify’s curated playlist of his most popular songs, while making my dinner ahead of this gig, I realised that those ‘greatest hits’ were numerous enough to fill half a day with music.
It would have been very easy to just perform a live version of that playlist, and the crowd at the Music Hall tonight would have soaked it in – but Corinne Bailey Rae and her guests had no interest in doing that.
Instead, it was very clear that the people on stage – not just the singers, but the musicians too – were devoted fans of the soul legend and, as the name of the show suggests, they were not out to celebrate Stevie Wonder’s best-known music, they were out to celebrate the man himself.
Corinne Bailey Rae, best known as the Grammy-winning singer of noughties hits Like A Star and Put Your Records On, has met and performed with Stevie Wonder on several occasions, including one memorable time at the White House.
With her choice of songs, it was clear that she wanted to pay tribute to the full breadth of her friend’s genius: the love songs, the protest songs, the joyful Motown hits, and the soulful ballads.
It is important not to collate ‘greatest hits’ with ‘crowd-pleasers’, though. The chosen songs, and the performances, were unfailingly stunning, and the audience was enraptured from the start.
Maryland-born Jalen N’Gonda demonstrated the effortless soul of his voice with his versions of songs like Sylvia and It Ain’t No Use, while Angus Munro electrified with the energy of his rendition of Skeletons.
Corinne Bailey Rae herself performed a charming Joy Inside My Tears, with her husband Steve Brown at the keyboard.
There was, of course, room for Stevie Wonder’s most beloved hits though, and there were plenty of them: Do I Do, Sir Duke, As, I Wish, Signed Sealed Delivered, and My Cherie Amour.
It was wonderful to hear For Once In My Life performed live, including the solo – for my money, the purest distillation of joy in recorded music – though performed by a saxophone rather than Stevie’s harmonica.
My personal highlight of the night came early though, with guest singer Paix’s rendition of If You Really Love Me.
The Glasgow-based singer took full advantage of the slow verses with her luscious vocals, and the drummer was able to show off his impressive skills too. It was a delight.
The night, and the True North festival for 2021, came to an end the only way it ever could have done: with a full-throttle, no-holds-barred rendition of Superstition, including a pair of astonishing solos from the saxophonist and trumpeter.
A crowd that had remained rather sedate for most of the night was up on its feet, and at last the concert felt like what it truly was – a celebration.