LIVE: Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, Jamie Woon – BST Hyde Park 10.07.16

Describing Jamie Woon‘s sound is not an easy task. He stands behind an acoustic guitar but is a far cry from similarly aged singer/songwriter/guitar holders. There’s a lot of soul and electronica, and so if you’re imagining a cross between Sam Smith and Jamie XX you’d be on the right path, but there’s also the feeling that this is how Nile Rodgers might sound if Chic started today. ‘Night Fall’ is atmospheric, the steady hand-clap rhythm interrupted by vocal samples and electronic effects, while Woon’s vocal is the poetic foundation. ‘Sharpness’ throws it back a little more, with a strong sense of R’n’B, like Craig David now he’s cool again, but collaborating with Caribou.

Pharrell Williams‘ jukebox shows have become a staple of festivals over the past few years, appearing at Glastonbury and Wireless among others, and while he has nothing new to promote he’s got enough hits to entertain a crowd. ‘Happy’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and ‘Come Get It Bae’ are his only solo tracks, with the rest of the set made up of N*E*R*D (‘She Wants To Move’, Lapdance’), Snoop Dogg (‘Beautiful’, ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’) and Daft Punk (‘Get Lucky’, ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’) collaborations, amongst others. Unfortunately the majority of the audience are of a (much) older age, so as big as the beats are, the participation from the crowd is minimal.

Not that age should effect energy. Entering the stage with one of his backing vocalists guiding him into the audience’s view, the roars of applause for Stevie Wonder spread across the royal park like a never-ending Mexican Wave. But before he begins his FOUR HOUR set, Stevie takes to the mic to address to crowd: “In this troubled time that we’re living in I want to say that I love you all. I was blessed to be born blind so I can show you everything that you have…” 

It’s a powerful opening, but Songs In The Key Of Life is a powerful journey through issues that are just as relevant as when it was released 40 years ago. Playing an album in full is a risky move in itself (a track list is a very different energy to a set list) and a double album even more so: Seeing Michelangelo carve David’s face or his bits and pieces might be entertaining in between a few favourite bits from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but to see it through from start to finish wouldn’t be quite as gripping.

‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’, ‘Have A Talk With God’ and ‘Village Ghetto Land’ switch from gospel to R’n’B to orchestration, with the awe of his vocal and the band’s (including a string section) ability to recreate the album an incredible start, while ‘Sir Duke’ and ‘I Wish’ are the hits those who didn’t do their research require. The downside, however, comes when the tracks are extended, turning a double album into a quadruple-length collection. A section that sees his array of backing vocalists taking a turn in the spotlight is slightly more un-welcomed – nobody wants to speak to the man who washed Michelangelo’s tools.

Thankfully, Wonder’s between track speeches bring the audience back on side, with a cockney impression given an airing a fair few times. And if they needed a reason to love him even more, the tears that stream down his face during ‘Joy Inside My Tears’ do just that. “We did it!” he declares as the Songs In The Key Of Life section comes to an end, before announcing to the audience that he is no longer Stevie Wonder and should be referred to as DJ Tik Tik Boom (who DJs, focusing on Prince numbers).

With just 20 minutes left, ‘Superstition’ and a couple of other snippets are brought out of the bag, and with that his first UK, non-festival gig in a good few years come to a close. It may have not have been the Greatest Hits show some had assumed it would be, but it wasn’t any old gig either; this was a masterclass, a lesson in life and a piece of history relived, all rolled into one.

Dan Bull

Dan Bull

Dan Bull

Reviews Editor
London. Likes: Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, Prince Charles Cinema, Duran Duran Dislikes: Soreen, All-hits setlists, "I liked them before everyone else..."