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Arts and Entertainment

Stevie Wonder's House Full of Toys @ Nokia Theater 12/13/08

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The annual House Full Of Toys benefit has been a holiday destination for folks in Los Angeles for the last thirteen years. For many of those years, it was just about the only chance anyone on earth had to see Stevie Wonder doing his incredible thing, as he'd apparently settled in to a long retirement from the road. Typically, the roster would be filled with up and coming R&B stars (I caught my first glimpse of India.Arie and Ja Rule at his 2001 show), while the man himself would do a half-hour set at the end of the night, much of it in medley form. The last two years, however, has seen him fully back in action, touring the world, playing lengthy shows that dug deep into his most classic material. When this year's benefit was advertised, no special guests were announced, which led us to speculate we might get three full hours of Stevie, doing a similar show to the one at the Greek Theater last fall which left us dumbstruck.

What we got was something in the middle, sort of a Stevie Wonder concert with ADD. There were indeed special guests, most of them new and unknown singers, some of them from Wonder's crew of sidemen. The only ones I'd heard of before were smooth jazz saxophonist Boney James and shirtless R&B pleader Tyrese, a man obsessed with one burning question: Which side of the auditorium is louder than the other, and who will stop at nothing until it has been answered to his satisfaction. In between performing his own songs, Wonder would call one of his guests out, typically for two songs, one of them Christmas-related, then he'd send them on their way and do a couple more on his own before calling out the next guest, and so forth until the end of the night.