Back by what I'm sure was heavy popular demand, Stevie Wonder returns home on Nov. 21 for his second Songs in the Key of Life performance in our area in about a year. After playing the Palace during the start of the same tour on Nov. 20, 2014, and proceeding to take the show all around the country, Wonder is back for an encore at Joe Louis Arena. Though most assumed that this Songs in the Key of Life run would be a short run of special shows in major cities, the 65-year-old Wonder has gone on to play in nearly every major American city over the past year, and now we're blessed to have another opportunity to see him.
Sadly, I wasn't at the show when Wonder was at the Palace, so I can't make a first-hand recommendation. However, you probably don't need me to tell you that the greatness of Songs in the Key of Life and the fact that Wonder undeniably has still got it as a live performer makes this a must-see show for any Detroiter.
Released in September 1976 when Wonder was one of the biggest stars in the world and finishing up a run of just ridiculously classic work, Songs in the Key of Life might be the most unbeatable of all Wonder's records. Commercially, it outsold everything in 1977 except Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. And critically, it's become the Stevie Wonder record. For casual fans, it has "Isn't She Lovely," "Sir Duke," and "I Wish," all funk-rock fusion hits that you still hear at weddings or on the radio. The classic yet still modern-sounding tracks have got horn-section rave-ups and breakdowns, trademark harmonica playing, and of course, Wonder's unparalleled voice — a miracle of force, empathy, and genius that could probably sing Cher's tweets and still bring tears to my eyes.
Any of these songs alone could take a mediocre album and elevate it to a must-have, but for fans who like more than the singles, Songs in the Key of Life, like all of Wonder's work in his prime, is a fully immersive experience, created with painstaking care and virtuosic ability. It's experimental, groundbreaking, and rewarding in both small slices or as a whole.
But based on the history of this tour, Wonder won't just go out, perform the album in order, and leave. He's been mixing up the order, tossing in surprise pop songs, and doing encores of hits from his other records. This isn't some sort of nostalgic greatest hits victory lap that Wonder's on — he's still vibrant and dynamic as he continually reinterprets his art.
Though it's certainly not impossible that he'll be back out on the road soon, right now this Detroit show is going to be the penultimate Songs in the Key of Life concert (with Wonder closing in New York at Madison Square Garden a few days later). You can bet that he'll be back, or you can just choose not to care, but if you actively decide never to see Wonder perform his greatest album in the city that loves him that most, I know you'll regret it.
Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life tour comes to Joe Louis Arena on Saturday, Nov. 21; Doors at 8 p.m.; olympiaentertainment.com; Tickets range from $29.50 to $149.50.