Published Jul 09, 2009Stevie Wonder was supposed to kick off the 30th birthday of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, but ended up paying tribute to Michael Jackson, as the the 59-year-old soul legend let loose a mammoth free show at the city's Place des Arts complex.
"I want for us to celebrate the life and the legacy of Michael Jackson," Wonder announced before launching into "I Can't Help It" from MJ's Off the Wall. Not once, but three times (including the finale) did Wonder and his 14-piece band stop playing and blast MJ tunes to an adoring crowd. However, considering most concertgoers were forced to watch the show via jumbo telescreens, it would've been nice to see some Jackson concert footage instead of watching Stevie and the band clapping along onstage.
An estimated 150,000 fans jammed Jeanne-Mance and adjoining streets where the telescreens simulcast the show. Cellphone networks were jammed and some fans were paying others to hold prime spots near the stage. They were lucky. Probably only 10 percent of the crowd actually saw Wonder perform in the flesh, while everyone else grooved to the telescreens. Problem was that the sound was appallingly tinny at the St. Catherine Street stage, though beefy and strong on Maisonneuve Boulevard. The fans also endured an hour of rain right up until five minutes before show time, then waited out a 25-minute delay.
All this aside, though, the crowd was rewarded with a show that ran a good two and a half hours, with Wonder mixing rocking hits like "Master Blaster" and "Uptight" with ballads like "I Just Called to Say I Love You," which became a eulogy to the Gloved One.
Wonder kept the show flowing as if making up for the delay. Dressed in plastic macs and garbage bags, the rain-soaked crowd danced to the hits "Superstition," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours," "My Cherie Amour" and "Sir Duke." Wonder also delivered a few surprises by way of a jazzy cover of the Beatles' "Michelle" and a hard-funk jam of "So What?" by Miles Davis.
Renown as the city of parties, Montreal still managed to host a classy summer night of Wonder.