If Ann and Nancy Wilson had intended their band name Heart as a metaphor for the love between musician and audience, then this night in Calgary at the Jubilee auditorium brought that intention to it’s feet. The adoring crowd delivered a standing ovation before the musicians had even managed to deliver a single note. Any thought that the 40 year old band should be relegated to the casino circuit along with some of their contemporaries, were instantly dashed on the rocks.
After an excellent acoustic warm-up set from the immensely talented Simon Townshend, who’s song writing talent and singing equals, and at times, surpasses that of his more famous brother ( The Who’s Pete Townshend), Heart took the stage to an impassioned roar from the full house. The head banging opening guitar riff to Barracuda opened the set and whipped the crowd into a froth. At age 62, lead vocalist Ann Wilson might inspire scepticism in the average rock fan, perhaps even a twinge of worry, but instead she showed that she is no old lady. She still has the pipes and energy to blow the doors off many half her age and younger, and looks fabulous while doing it.
Photography by: Charles Hope
There was some struggle getting the sound fine tuned, as there was no time for a proper sound check, but things got real good fast. The second song, the title track from the Fanatic album, showed that this song writing team has lost none of its mettle. A powerful Zep influenced track that gave the musicians a chance to channel their energy into a brand new classic.
Ann’s voice, at first a bit constrained, seemed to open up with Heartless and What about Love, the band’s next two offerings. It was clear that this group lacked nothing in terms of passion for and connection with their music. There was no sense that they were just “going through the motions”. The groove between master stickman Ben Smith and bassist Dan Rothchild was deep and powerful. Smith’s fluid, rock steady tempos kept the band grounded. His enormous feel and dynamic control were perfect for Heart’s wide ranging songs. Rothchild, looking for all the world like he stepped onto a stage in 1976, kept pace with his funky, slinky style. 59 Crunch, the next song from the fanatic album, dented a few eardrums with a heavy guitar riff and a soaring slide guitar solo from ten year veteran and co-songwriter, Craig Bartok. Bartok handled the main guitar duties with efficient, casual coolness.
Predictably the new material was politely received. However, the next few numbers, Keep your Love Alive, Even it Up and Straight On For You, slapped the face of any doubters. Ann’s mellowed vocal delivery on Dreamboat Annie was almost more ideal than the original recording, as if she was singing about a beautiful memory.
Ann and Nancy made obvious their connection with Canada, Ann reminding us that Calgary was one of the first places they travelled to (only to be fired). Nancy draping her guitar amps in the maple leaf flag. Dog and Butterfly came next, the amazing keyboard touch of Debbie Phair treating the arrangement to a plucked violin sound.
Nancy (58) took lead vocal on These Dreams from the band’s 1986 incarnation. She introduced it as song that “they just couldn’t let go” The inclusion of mandolin in this particular arrangement, sanded off the polish from the recorded version and gave the tune a new relevance. Nancy’s vocal delivery was spotless. This was followed by Alone, another power ballad that found Ann’s vocal prowess fully restored.
Dear old America, the final song from the Fanatic album, was written as a tribute to their dad, a U.S. Marine who served in World war 2. It is also a tribute to all veterans who come home but “never really come back”. Another heavy rocker, broken up by a plaintive keyboard string section and some great guitar interplay between Nancy and Craig.
Nancy donned her acoustic guitar for the opening of Crazy On You the final song of the set, and displayed not only her brilliant guitar skills but the most fabulous tone. Nancy danced about the stage as if she were weightless. One would never suspect that she was anything other than in her prime. Ann’s vocal delivery was again superb, with the band firing on all cylinders.
There was no way the ecstatic audience was going to let them go without squeezing Heart for as many encore tunes as they could get. They got two.
Magic Man satisfied the fan’s need for one more hit of classic rock nostalgia. The final encore number was Black Dog, one of Led Zeppelin’s more epic songs. To say Heart did this song justice is a massive understatement. Simply said, there is no one that can touch them here. Musically this version was powerful and impeccable. Vocally, it was an arrow through the heart.
For fans of the rock concert, Heart is a must see. World class writers, performers and sisters, Ann and Nancy Wilson have carved themselves a solid notch in musical history.