Review and photo credit: Dave Burke
For over 4 decades sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson have been the foundation of Rock N Roll Hall of Fame inductees Heart. Forming the band in the mid 1970’s the siblings smashed the stereotype that women couldn’t lead a successful rock band and created a signature blend of folk and hard rock driven by Ann’s powerhouse vocals and Nancy’s rhythm guitar. Throughout the decade Heart released a string of platinum selling and chart topping LP’s and singles, that to this day are still in heavy rotation on classic rock radio. After a brief decline in mainstream popularity in the early 1980’s, the band came roaring back with a slicker, more pop oriented sound in 1985 and would ride high in the charts for the rest of that decade. In one incarnation or another Heart would also have albums in the billboard top 10 in the 90’s and 2000’s, giving them the longest string of top 10 albums be any female fronted rock band.
The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton WI. isn’t often home to rock concerts, more often it hosts traveling Broadway productions, film festivals, and other cultural and educational events, it’s plush interior more upscale than your typical rock n roll venue. The crowd also being a bit more subdued than the typical concert crowd, seizing every opportunity during the occasional ballad to take their seats. Even with the crowd ready to take five at a moments notice the Wilson’s and band, did their best to keep the laid back on their feet, leading off with the mid tempo FM radio staple “Magic Man” from their debut, 1976’s “Dreamboat Annie. The hits kept on coming with “Heartless” from 1977’s Magazine, the 80’s comeback smash “What About Love”, rocker “Kick It Out & the strutting “Straight On” from 1978’s Dog and Butterfly release.
As the band rattled off hit after hit as well as a cover of Robin Trower’s “Day Of The Eagle”, I was particularly taken by the power and range of Ann Wilson’s voice. Now in here mid 60’s, an age where many of her male contemporaries are struggling with the wear and tear of decades use, Ann’s voice seemed ageless.
A particular highlight of the night, as well as another vocal showcase for not only Ann’s lead but her harmonies with sister Nancy, was the acoustic rendering the 80’s hit ballad “Alone”. Like the other 80’s material it was much more powerful and immediate stripped of it’s slick pop production.
The band finished their main set with anther pair of classic radio hits, “Crazy on You”, it’s intro a showcase for Nancy’s acoustic guitar work giving way to yet another powerful vocal performance in it’s chorus and “Barracuda”, it’s driving guitar riff sounding just a little sluggish compared to my memory of the recorded version.
After a brief intermission the band returned to the stage, finishing the night with their take on Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”, “No Quarter” and “Misty Mountain Hop”
In it may be a slight bit of nostalgia, having had a few friends that were die hard Heart fans in my teenage years and having owned the 45 single of Barracuda when I was in 2nd grade, but it’s shows like this that remind me of how truly great Heart’s body of work is, even though they may not always be at the forefront of my current playlist.
Heart will be on the road in North America through the end of 2015, click over to heart-music.com for tour dates and info.