Stevie Wonder: Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica CA

THERE ARE innovative artists and there are great entertainers, but for one reason or another the twain seldom seem to meet. Stevie Wonder is remarkably blessed in both areas, as he demonstrated Friday at the Santa Monica Civic with a stunning blend of musical brilliance and unfettered showmanship.

There’s no trickery in Wonder’s show. He knows that inspiring an audience is best achieved through the enthusiasm of the performer himself, and so he makes clear his total involvement, his complete and joyous possession by the music.

He incorporates the audience into the spectacle not through forced and empty exhortations, but by firmly pulling them into the flow of the music and, with a keen sense of timing and drama, dropping the level way down to create a space in which the crowd may provide some sweet harmony or intricate percussion.

It makes for a remarkable intimacy and empathy, and Friday’s audience responded with an excellent performance.

Wonder’s presentation is marked by consummate professionalism, but isn’t marred by slickness. And his music, for all the syrup that seeps from his more pop-oriented material, is invariably brilliant.

Preceding Wonder was Azteca, an offshoot of Santana that provides some of the most interesting Latin-rock around. They haven’t surmounted the audiovisual difficulties involved in presenting a 17-member band, but the ensemble’s presence is forceful and its music surprisingly varied.

Finnegan and Wood, a bland blues band, opened the show.

© Richard CromelinLos Angeles Times, 7 March 1973

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