If you’re a fan of Heart (and how could you not be), it’s a great year to see Heart outdoors in the Phoenix area. This summer, Heart comes to town as headliners of the “Rock and Roll Hall Three For All” tour with Joan Jett and Cheap Trick. But for those who couldn’t wait, an 80 minute helping of Heart on Saturday night, April 16, 2016, at the Good Life Festival at the Encanterra Country Club in San Tan Valley was a great way to get things going.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since Ann and Nancy Wilson first showed the world that these two sisters could write and perform rock and roll with the best of them. “Magic Man” and “Crazy On You” turned 40 this year? How did that happen?
But the Wilson sisters appeared to be as ageless as their songs. Nancy still leapt in the air with her guitar and ran around the stage. Ann shimmied and head-banged, depending on what the song demanded. And their voices? There was more than one occasion where one just said “wow” (meant in a good way).
With Heart having 26 singles in Billboard’s Hot 100 coming just from their work in the 1970’s and 1980’s, plus their release of new material, picking a set list can be a challenge. There are songs fans demand every time, “Alone,” “Barracuda” and “These Dreams.” Yet Heart has a solid body of work from albums released in the 2010’s, “Red Velvet Car” (2010), “Fanatic” (2012) and the upcoming “Beautiful Broken.” The evening’s song choices were heavy on the old hits, but with still a few newer songs thrown in.
The show began with Heart’s album 1, side 1, song 1, “Magic Man.” The crowd was on their feet even before the song’s familiar opening notes carried through the air. Ann’s voice was dead solid perfect. She hit the high notes. She hit the low notes. She belted out when need be. She was soft when it was required.
Nothing changed with “Heartless.” The audience was still standing, bobbing up and down to the beat. Ann still hit every note. Nancy danced while strumming her guitar.
Although many in the crowd took a break from standing for “What About Love,” it did not deter them from singing along with the chorus. Ann and Nancy’s harmonies helped drown out those who were not as vocally blessed as the Wilson sisters.
After touring Canada for a month, Heart was glad to be in a warmer climate. Looking out at another typical postcard worthy Arizona sunset, Ann remarked, “ Is Heaven not right here? This warm air feels good.” Then channeling her inner James Brown, Ann urged those in attendance to “get up offa that thing.” Everyone complied as the band segued into “Straight On.”
“We have an obligation to sing love songs because we are called Heart,” said Nancy. And so they did. Nancy took over the lead vocals for “These Dreams” and a new song to their repertoire, Ne-Yo’s “Two.” Originally composed for the television show “Empire,” “we stole it because it is a Heart song,” explained Nancy in introducing “Two.” She was right, her vocals sounding even stronger for “Two,” which earned her a standing ovation.
Unlocking a vault seldom heard from, the Wilson sisters broke out from their Lovemongers’ side project the song “Sand.” It may be repetitious to say the vocals were strong, but the acoustic number was another example that a stripped down Heart can be just as entertaining as a hard rocking Heart.
There was one last power ballad to cover, 1987’s “Alone.” Initially accompanied only by Chris Joyner’s keyboards, this was Ann Wilson at her finest, which is saying a lot. It wasn’t the cool breeze that gave the audience goosebumps. It was the continual “wow” moments Ann gave throughout the song. If Ann had extended her arm and dropped her mic at the song’s end, saying, “I can’t do better than that,” no one would have argued.
But fortunately, she didn’t drop her mic. Instead it was time to get everyone back on their feet to end the night with some rock and roll. “Even It Up” got the faithful up and thrusting their arms into the air. Craig Bartock displayed the blazing guitar work he had all night. Bassist Dan Rothchild was back to his animated self. Drummer Ben Smith pounded away.
Heart then gave the audience a vision of things to come, with “Beautiful Broken,” from their upcoming album of the same name. This hard rocker showed that after 40 years, the edge still remains to the Wilson sister’s song writing abilities.
With Nancy displaying her flamenco like acoustic guitar playing (she even topped it off with an above the head hand clap) after a few teases, she struck the familiar chords that begin “Crazy On You.” The crowd was back on their feet as Nancy kicked up her heels, danced around stage and went crazy on the guitar.
You can’t have a Heart concert without hearing “Barracuda” and Heart didn’t disappoint. Ann’s vocals were vicious, making any listener glad that the lyrics weren’t directed towards them. Although there was no mic drop, the Wilson sisters left the stage with the echoes of the song still flowing over the sold out crowd.
And then it was time for the world’s most famous Led Zeppelin tribute band. If you’ve seen Heart in the last few years, you know not to expect any Heart songs in their encore. And while some may mumble, “but they didn’t play such and such song,” (I would love to hear them play “Allies” one time) the trade-off is Heart gives you three Led Zeppelin songs. This is a good thing.
You’d almost think Robert Plant had Ann Wilson’s singing in mind when he penned “Immigrant Song,” as she effortlessly sang the high range opening notes. The song’s hard driving chords were not a far cry from those found in “Barracuda” heard just moments before. Not that Heart has a fondness for or has been influenced by Led Zeppelin or anything.
The trippy “No Quarter” followed. Bartock’s guitar playing was masterful with Ann’s filtered voice hypnotizing the audience.
A final burst of energy was found both onstage and off for “Misty Mountain Hop.” Ann belted out ‘baby, baby, baby, do you like it?” Yes we did Ann, yes we did.
Set list: Magic Man | Heartless | What About Love | Straight On (with Get Up Offa That Thing intro) | These Dreams | Two | Sand | Alone | Even It Up | Beautiful Broken | Crazy On You | Barracuda | Encore: Immigrant Song | No Quarter | Misty Mountain Hop