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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Stevie Wonder leaves the house full of joy

The musician and his guests create a special atmosphere at his annual charity show

December 17, 2007|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

It's a simple formula: More Stevie = More Wonder.

So there really was no concern that Stevie Wonder's 12th annual House Full of Toys holiday charity show, held Saturday at its new Nokia Theater home downtown, would be any less special than recent editions given that fans have been able to see him doing full shows on tour in recent months for the first time in more than a decade. Nor was there any worry that this would be a less-stellar event for the fact that it relied less on guest stars than previous HFOT events.

That's not a knock at the guests who were part of the show Saturday. John Mayer was a welcome presence early on, joining Wonder and band for his own hit "Waiting on the World to Change" and adding sizzling guitar licks to the always-smoldering "Superstition." And John Legend, a Wonder acolyte if ever there was, shined later while singing and playing piano on his "Ordinary People."

It's just that there really are few pop music figures as special as Stevie Wonder.

So saying that much of the evening was "just" a Wonder concert is not a negative, even if the first part of his set nearly duplicated the song order from his Greek Theatre show in September, a hard sequence to top, drawing largely on his 1973 album, "Innervisions." That's one of the keystone collections in all of pop music, let alone in his remarkable career -- from the stern (and still quite relevant) rallying cries of "Living For the City," "Higher Ground" and "Visions" (updated with a litany of current global ills) to the unfettered, poetic romance of "Golden Lady," all linked by music equally supreme in virtuosity and imagination.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, December 18, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Stevie Wonder concert: A review of Stevie Wonder's concert in Monday's Calendar section gave gospel singer Ellis Hall's first name as Edwin.

But there was also the spontaneity and outright silliness any Wonder fan has come to know and love -- all supported expertly and indulgently (in the good sense) by his backing ensemble, which includes his daughter and sometimes duet partner Aisha Morris. A little tomfoolery with a talk box (a la Peter Frampton) brought about a rather odd, robot-voiced medley of the Stylistics' "People Make the World Go Round," Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" and Parliament's "Give Up the Funk." Amusing, sure, but frustrating in that later, because of time constraints, he had to cram essentials "Sir Duke" and "I Wish" into a rushed medley and leave such usually indispensable songs as "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Isn't She Lovely" neglected.

As often as not, though, digressions and diversions enhanced the sense of occasion -- a brief appearance by gospel-salsa performer Danny Carreras, an electrifying "Do You Hear What I Hear?" by gospel-soul singer Edwin Hall (just days after the death of his wife) and "We Are the World" performed by the teen and pre-teen Hollywood Pop Academy Choir, all helped fill the large room with holiday spirit.

And there was Wonder's own first musical moment of the night: an admittedly shaky but moving solo version of "Ave Maria." This was the second Christmas season for him since the death of his mother, he explained. With that on his mind, the community nature of the House Full of Toys was clearly extra-meaningful for him, and he made it so for us. It was anything but formulaic.

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