Live At Last (DVD)
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/10/2009
I gotta say, I was very much looking forward to this release from the legendary Mr. Wonder. I have never seen him live and until this DVD, was released there was no official concert film out there. I have long been a fan of his and just about everyone else from the glorious Motown family. I had heard that he was a wonderful performer and possesses one of the best bands going around. Having all of this in mind, it was with great expectations that I first sat back and cranked up the volume, ready to be thoroughly entertained by a true master of his craft. After just over two hours later, I could not have been more disappointed.
To start with a positive, I’ll say that yes, his band are very well-drilled and follow his every direction right down to the tap of his foot. The only problem with them is that every single member of the group looked like they’d rather be anywhere other than onstage playing classic soul music. It’s not until well into the second half of the gig that a camera finally catches one of them actually smiling. In contrast to this, the London crowd is clearly overjoyed at just being in the same building as the great man. As for Stevie himself, he is obviously limited in some respects, but never seems to struggle in connecting with his audience.
The main problems I found were his morbid band and surprisingly underwhelming set-list. I still think Stevie Wonder is the owner of one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard; the only problem is that in the live setting, I struggled to decipher even his most well-known lyrics. I don’t know if he was having a tough time with his voice, but on quite a few songs he was barely intelligible. Having said that, the film itself is very well shot and comes with the two standard audio formats in PCM 2.0 Stereo and DTS 5.1 surround sound. The booklet contains some brilliant photos and full show credits.
So now it’s down to the music to save the day. The opener is a great instrumental piece called “All Blues,” but the next five songs could not have been flatter if they’d tried, staggering when this includes “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” The band look stone cold bored and Stevie’s singing early on quite frankly leaves a lot to be desired. The first song that gets a ravenous reception is his classic funker “Higher Ground,” but the momentum is killed immediately with plain boring renditions of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” and “Visions.” Even another funk classic, “Living For The City,” is somehow void of the funk. It’s just flat when it clearly should be a highlight.
Surprisingl,y one of the liveliest numbers here is “Part-Time Lover,” a song Stevie and his band – not to mention the crowd – all obviously have a soft spot for. Finally, after an hour, it seems things are starting to get moving. The lovely ballad “Lately” is given a touching delivery by Wonder and when the band crank out “My Cherie Amour” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” in rapid succession, the O2 Arena begins jumping at last. Two of Stevie’s most loved songs get even more love with “You’re The Sunshine Of My Life” and “Isn’t She Lovely” doing the job and bringing several members of the crowd to tears.
The dreadful “I Just Called To Say I Love You” is probably obligatory for the fans, but it’s another dampener that Stevie and band could have done without. The show is given a rousing ending with “Superstition” (funk included) and “As,” two absolute classics that bring the crowd and the band to a higher place – but unfortunately, it’s too little too late. Throughout the gig, the classic material is broken up and spread out, while curious choices such as “Sir Duke,” “I Wish,” Overjoyed,” and “Spain” are left to flesh out the show.
There’s not much more I can say; I don’t mean to be harsh, but I was really expecting a lot more than a flat and at times boring show from the great Stevie Wonder. This one is really for the diehards only – sad but true.