“This has been a crazy year, as we all know,” Wonder declared at the show’s outset before he and daughter Aisha Morris broke into a rollicking rendition of his holiday song “What Christmas Means to Me.” Afterward, Wonder thanked the concert’s team of sponsors, including Bank of America, Bank of the West and Salesforce, the latter of which donated $1 million to the We Are You Foundation.
After leading a standing ovation of thanks for the firefighters and first responders, Wonder declared, “There is global warming.” Referencing the current administration, he added to boisterous audience applause, “Tell whomever to stop talking that ish.”
Then for the next two and a half hours, with Morris and comedian Chris Spencer co-hosting, it was all about the music. Among the evening’s highlights:
-When Lukas Nelson was introduced to the stage as the son of country legend Willie, it wasn’t hard to see that those unfamiliar with the singer/songwriter expected him to perform something from his dad’s deep catalog. But the younger Nelson, frontman for Promise of the Real (which appears as Bradley Cooper’s band in A Star Is Born), turned out a surprised Staples Center audience with a blazing performance of the group’s own track “Find Yourself.” Nelson’s rocking homage to soul/R&B and his hard-charging guitar prowess deservedly drew the evening’s first standing ovation for a performer.
-Newly minted Grammy nominee Anderson .Paak (best rap performance for “Bubblin”) proved he’s just as adept on an instrument as he is behind the mic. He manned the drums to back Wonder (on keyboards) and Morris on a duet of “Little Drummer Boy,” which featured a mesmerizing instrumental break that teamed .Paak with other drummers and percussionists on Wonder’s crew of musicians helmed by music director Rickey Minor. Paak, who also accompanied Wonder on “Overjoyed,” later returned to perform his own song “Tints” featuring Kendrick Lamar, noting, “Stevie’s got me sweating like I’m playing in church.”
-First-time Grammy nominee Ella Mai added more icing to her already sweet year by making her debut appearance at the holiday benefit. Before Mai performed “Boo’d Up”–nominated for song of the year and best R&B song—Wonder said of Mai’s hit, “She made me want to go home and do some things. And guess what? I did.” Mai also rejoined Wonder on the fan fave “Superstition.”
-And percussionist Sheila E. proved her drumming skills are still just as lethal as she brought the audience to its feet for a raucous sing-along to her best-known hit “The Glamourous Life.” At one point the singer/songwriter hoisted her cymbal stand and threw it down onstage in addition to tossing drumsticks out to the crowd. “I think she broke all the instruments,” joked Wonder, who kept Sheila E. onstage as he brought out Chanté Moore so the trio could perform “My Cherie Amour.”
Rounding out the 2018 House Full of Toys concert lineup were newly announced Grammy nominees PJ Morton and Leon Bridges, Ari Lennox, Ro James, Daley, newcomer male quartet 4th Ave and DJ Malski. Before closing the evening with “Another Star,” Wonder teamed with Daley on a moving version of “You and I,” Lennox on “Creeping” and Morton on “Winter Wonderland.”