By Andy J. Gordon
A sellout crowd came to the Hollywood Bowl on July 24, 2011 for a night of soul music. The program featured artists from around the world that all offer an interpretation of the type of music that seems to come from deep inside, and stirs emotional feelings. Each entertainer at the show has achieved a level of success, but there was little doubt that the night’s headliner, Stevie Wonder, was the big draw.
The concept for the evening originated with Ricky Minor, the musical director of “The Tonight Show” orchestra. Minor and his band supported each of the featured musicians, and as some of them joked on stage, with virtually no practice sessions, pulled off a highly successful evening of soul music. The first set featured the global acts. Nigerian guitarist Bombino (www.bambinoafrica.com) played a couple of energetic songs. The Soul Seekers gospel group (www.thesoulseekersmusic.com) and folk pop singer Mia Doi Todd (http://miadoitodd.com/) sang a few inspirational tunes. Rocky Dawuni (www.rockydawuni.com,) Ghana’s Afrofunke reggae star mixed things up with a solid version of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up.” The first set closed with the “Screaming Eagle of Soul,” Charles Bradley (www.thecharlesbradley.com,) who channeled James Brown, right down to the tight pants, crazy dance steps, and booming voice.
The second set opened with Vermont’s Grace Potter (www.gracepotter.com,) a guitar, keyboards, and scorching vocals triple threat. At the Hollywood Bowl Potter stuck to vocals, and her booming voice filled the open air venue. She performed “Hot Summer Nights,” “Paris,” and “Medicine” from the 2010 album Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. Her set ended with a rousing version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.” Potter’s voice, shimmering mini-dress, and dance routine reminded many of the Tina Turner version of the song. Next up was Janelle Monae (www.jmonae.com,) a dynamic performer with a great voice, distinctive style, and creative dance moves. While singing beautifully, she bounded across the stage in a tailored tuxedo outfit. Monae chose to pay tribute to Michael Jackson, nearly two years after his death, with a cover of “Smile” and “I Want You Back.” She also performed “Cold War” and “Tightrope,” hits from her 2010 album Archandroid. Another great female vocalist, Sharon Jones (www.sharonjonesandthedapkings.com/,) followed Monae. Jones is usually the voice in front of The Dap-Kings, and their music is a throwback to the soul/funk sound of the late 1960s to mid 1970s. She sang “She Ain’t a Child No More” and “Mama Don’t Like My Man” from 2010s I Learned the Hard Way. Jones had some kind words for Marvin Gaye before launching into an exhilarating version of his “Mercy Mercy Me.”
There was a short break before Stevie Wonder (www.steviewonder.org.uk) was escorted onstage to thunderous applause by Monae and Jones. Wonder got settled at his grand piano and keyboards setup while he joked with the crowd about having no time to prepare with The Tonight Show Band. It didn’t matter because Wonder and the supporting musicians performed like they had rehearsed for weeks. He started out by taking the audience on a musical journey of his early influences. “Goodnight My Love,” by R&B radio pioneer Jesse Belvin, was a song that inspired Wonder as a kid in Detroit. He did a stirring version of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” and also a raucous take on Ray Charles’ “It’s Alright.”
As the dreaded curfew approached, Wonder brought the crowd to a near frenzy with his signature “Superstitious.” All of the night’s singers came out for a medley in honor of the 40th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.” They were supported with additional background vocals from the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. Wonder also did an encore performance of his “Higher Ground,” ending an amazing evening that beautifully represented the past, present, and future of soul music.
Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/ Hollywood Bowl