Concert review: Heart, September 3, 2011, Phoenix, Arizona

From Ted Hansen of

I’m not sure what band guitarist Nancy Wilson played in before Heart.  Given the way her hair was thrashing about throughout the night as she attacked her instrument, she could have been in a 1980’s hair/metal band.  Or maybe, given her leaps and leg kicks, she was in The Who for a few years.  But then you listen to her harmonize with sister Ann Wilson and you know, Nancy has been with Heart all the time.

Heart was with the audience all the time on a typical hot summer night in Phoenix on September 3, 2011 at the Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion. The Wilson sisters and the rest of Heart blazed through their seventy minute set, at times living up to their billing as a hard rock act and at other times, showing that they are the queens of power ballads. They aren’t too shabby as a cover band either.

Introduced by Led Zeppelin’s “In the Light,” and a pulsating heart on the video screen behind the stage, Heart kicked things off with their rendition of Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” where Ann’s powerful vocals and Nancy’s energy showed no signs that the group had been on tour all summer long.  The joy on their faces continued into the next number “Magic Man,” and from then on, it was one Heart hit after another.

In Phoenix, we are usually treated to one of the first stops on a band's tour, where a couple of dates have been played to shake off the rust, but the group’s enthusiasm is high and their spirit is not broken by tedious months of touring.  With Heart, the Phoenix date was far into their tour, yet the band’s enthusiasm was as if it was opening week.  The crowd picked up on that early on with both the audience and the band drawing energy from each other. Any doubt of which gender knows their Heart songs could best be determined by the high voices that sang along with Heart on “What About Love.”

Thirty five years after the release of their initial album Dreamboat Annie and after countless tours, it’s hard to believe the Wilson sister’s voices have held up as well as they have.  Their harmonies on “Heartless,” “Straight On,” and “These Dreams,” continue to smoothly blend.  The jury verdict on Ann Wilson’s voice was settled when she boldly ventured into the lyrics of “Alone,” starting off with a purity most singers would die for and then being able to belt out the chorus with her power and showing off her range.  Vocally, it was the highlight of the evening.   As good as Nancy’s lead vocals on “These Dreams,” were, it was good she preceded rather than followed her sister.

Although Heart is the Wilson sisters’ baby, the band wouldn’t be as strong as they are live without the contributions of Debbie Shair on keyboards, Ben Smith on drums, Craig Bartock’s excellent guitar work and Kristian Attard on bass.  All turned in top notch performances and add a subtle, Bartock’s guitar solos notwithstanding, yet necessary part to every Heart song.

As is common with most classic rock groups that try to introduce new music into their greatest hits catalog, “WTF” from last year’s album Red Velvet Car was Heart’s “I think I’ll get a drink, watch my seat” song. But the audience quickly came back for “Crazy on You” and the regular set closer “Barracuda.”

The night ended as it began, Heart embracing the artists they grew up admiring, with another Led Zeppelin song, the acoustic “The Battle of Evermore,” and then a powerful version of The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me.”  The only thing missing was Ann doing Daltrey’s mike twirling (although does Daltrey even do Daltrey’s mike twirling anymore?) and Nancy doing a windmill stroke on her guitar. Didn’t Nancy learn anything from her days with The Who?

Set List:

Rock and Roll | Magic Man | Heartless | Straight On | What About Love?| These Dreams | Alone| WTF | Crazy On You | Barracuda | Encore: The Battle of Evermore | Love, Reign O’er Me