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September 30, 2008

Stevie Wonder Concert in Mannheim, Germany

Thanks to the wonderful folks at SAP I had the chance to see the Stevie Wonder concert at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany on September 23rd 2008. Honestly, I am not a big fan of Mr. Wonder but of course I know a lot of the hits like "Sir Duke", "Happy Birthday", "Superstition" and of course the cloying "I Just Called To Say I Love You". So yeah, I was looking forward to the concert but I expected a "Best Of"-kind of show: Stevie playing all his hits, the audience hearing all their favorites and everybody going home happy and the whole thing being pretty boring.

Boy was I wrong...

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First of all I was blown away by the massive size of the band: besides Mr. Wonder there were 2 guitar players, 1 base player, 1 drummer, 2 percussionists, 2 keyboarders, 4 background singers, 1 trumpet and 1 saxophone player. And each one of these artists was top-notch and most were able to showcase their skills with extensive solos.

Stevie and the band did a lot of improvisation, players were clearly adding their own little touches, jamming, simply having fun and enjoying the increasingly enthusiastic audience.

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The concert started out slowly with many unfamiliar songs - at least to me but from the audience reaction it was clear that the audience was waiting for "the hits". Sure Stevie played some minor favorites but most of the material was fairly obscure. Again, keep in mind that I am not a huge Stevie Wonder fan.

Stevie definitely tried to get the audience engaged, there were a lot of interactive "sing along" and "repeat after me" segments, Stevie even delighted folks by singing some German folk songs in his own way - nice touch!

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After about 1 hour things started to heat up and the audience got more and more engaged. Stevie also started to play some more familiar songs yet at the same time kept experimenting with improvisations, extensive solos and even had a segment where he used a vocoder. Unexpected but very cool and definitely something I have not seen connected with Stevie Wonder before!

Despite the concert not being sold out (one staff person spoke of around 7,000 tickets of 11,000 seats sold, not sure if that is true) the crowd was really warmed up now. And so 1 1/2 hours into the concert Stevie was ready to unleash the barrage of big hits.

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The light and stage show had continuously become more brilliant, more aggressive up to this point. In the beginning the lights were fairly subdued and primarily in the background. Spotlights and some moving lights, nothing to obvious. Later high intensity LED strips in the foreground above the stage were added (see the vertical strips in the pictures). More and more moving lights got added as the show went on and the 7 giant LED bars behind the stage got used more frequently.

Towards the end the giant LED bars showed highway and downtown traffic footage of an American city overlayed with live images from the stage to create a unique composition.

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In the 1 hour finale Stevie unleashed a non-stop crescendo of big hits, with lots of improvised segments in between: "Sir Duke", "Superstition", "Master Blaster", "Higher Ground", "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" and so on. One big hit followed another and the audience was on its feet and making noise like a sold-out venue.

Mr. Wonder and his band clearly enjoyed this enthusiastic response, played extensive solos and just had a good old time.

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Overall, the concert was truly awesome and Stevie Wonder and his band really played their hearts out. Passionate and skilled musicians enjoying themselves and an enthusiastic audience appreciating the outstanding performance - what more can you ask for?

Stevie Wonder's daughter Aisha Morris was one of the female vocalists and also had a solo. She received a very enthusiastic response from the audience as well.

Mr. Wonder also made multiple references to the impending US elections and heavily endorsed Barack Obama. Needless to say the German audience responded favorable to that :)

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So, enjoy the pictures and definitely try to catch Stevie Wonder in concert, even if you are not a big fan! If you appreciate watching a master at work you will enjoy him and his band!

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