Armed with a songbook unblemished by age or decades of wear and tear, Stevie Wonder’s first touring show in a dozen years is a superbly executed celebration of the singer’s artistic heyday in the 1970s. Music from one of pop music’s most important trilogies — “Innervisions,” “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and “Songs in the Key of Life” — receive riveting renditions that hew close to the originals: “Too High” still twists and turns with a unique ferocity; Wonder makes “Golden Lady” soar on every level; and “Superstition” maintains its place as a bedrock of funk rock.
For once, nostalgia is not a dirty word. Wonder, who had this tour quickly assembled this year after a period of grieving the death of his mother in 2006, has shed the hits he generated as a youth and later as an Adult Contemporary radio star. This is cornerstone Stevie, the songs that belong in every human’s music collection. Not only does he limit a song from his nadir, “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” to a couple of sung lines, but he also uses the melody as a backdrop for a plea to keep love in their hearts and to believe in unity — especially when it comes to voting for political leaders, in a throwback to the socially conscious work that gave this concert its shape.
Though he spends most of the night seated behind the grand piano, Wonder, 57, still has that rare commanding stage presence. The listener is consistently aware of his varied song structures, his appealing voice and the superb articulation of his music from his band of ace musicians led by the superb bassist Nathan Watts.
Wonder delivered solo at the piano a medley of ballads that included the lesser-known tracks “Can’t Imagine Love Without You,” “You and I” and “Lately” that absolutely sparkled.
Pacing helps him save his voice for the high-energy demands of late-in-the-show tunes “Sir Duke,” “I Wish” and “Another Star.” He inserts sing-alongs, jokes his way through a country ballad version of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and lets his daughter Aisha Morris lead their duet on “How Will I Know” to ensure that his voice ends the note with vigor.
Anita Johnson, the opera-singing daughter of a longtime friend who recently died, belted out the Nat Cole hit “When I Fall in Love.” It was there that Wonder’s voice wavered — some passages in “Ribbon in the Sky” were tough for him, too — yet he still has a facile reach into the upper registers that won over the audience every time.
Wonder got a late start, and the Greek’s 11 p.m. curfew meant the show went just a bit over two hours. A small drum set, something a grade schooler would play, was positioned down front for the entire set but never used. One assumes it was for a throwback to his Little Stevie days. In the slightly shortened format, the focus was squarely on the legacy of Wonder the adult, the one who shook up pop music for the better.
Wonder performs Sept. 18 at Gotham’s Radio City Music Hall.