The SOEC crowd rose in unison as Heart took to the stage at the start of what would turn out to be an epic concert here in BC’s Okanagan Valley. The anticipation could be felt even before opening act Simon Townshend delivered his set earlier in the evening. Penticton was ready to rock out with one of the most important bands in the history of the genre, and that is exactly what they did.
Townshend, who is the younger brother of The Who’s Pete Townshend, delivered a set that suggested he should be headlining his own tour. Wonderfully crafted songs performed with the confidence and maturity that only comes from possessing considerable talent and exercising it in public for years and years. Brilliant opening set.
The energy in the building spiked as Heart was taking the as yet darkened stage. It erupted as the band started into Barracuda and reached an apex as the spotlight landed on Ann Wilson as she launched into what is one of the band’s biggest hits. This audience stayed on their feet the entire night. The energy never sagged, even as the band played some of the ballads they seared into the public consciousness some 20 or 30 years ago.
Songs were selected from across their body of work, including last year’s Fanatic album. However, with so many mega hits from earlier offerings this band gave their fans a heavy dose of classic Heart. Bebe le Strange, Heartless, 59 Crunch, Love Alive and others were nailed as the band kept the crowd on fire between the volcanic eruptions of What About Love, Dreamboat Annie, These Dreams, Alone and Crazy On You. During those songs the crowd inhaled and exhaled as one; caught up in and abandoned to not just the deftly delivered versions of songs that influenced an entire generation but also to all that those songs meant at those earlier times and have carried through to this day. The emotional impact that Heart had back in the 80s may have even been exceeded on this night as many people experienced a sense of empowerment that they have not felt at that level in years and years. Heart is that significant a band in the history of rock music.
The band itself was scary good. Tight the way a band is supposed to be, but with serious groove and massive attitude..Nobody was going through the motions on this night, these players were laying it down even as the crowd was eating it up. Ben Smith on the drums and Dan Rothchild on bass provided the foundation that allowed keyboardist Debbie Shair and guitarist Craig Bartock to create a sonic garden that Nancy Wilson could chunk out righteous rhythms to and Ann Wilson to sing over top of. Superb musicianship from all the players.
Nancy Wilson showed once again why she has influenced so many guitarists regardless of gender. Not content to be hitting poses or just trying to look good, she gave her all, body and soul, into each and every song. Tone, dynamics, power chords, serious rock attitude; all these things oozed out of and dripped off her as she owned her area of the stage with a well-earned right to it. Rock school for aspiring rhythm players spanning Rock Rhythm 101 all the way through Advanced Rhythm Chops
Ann Wilson did what she has done so consistently over this band’s career; she sang in the way that few female vocalists can. It was all there on display on this night. An incredible range combined with a deep sense of nuance, the ability to shape the tone of her voice to individual passages within each song, her ability to match the energy of the band at every step of the way, and of course her power. These are the things that have placed her amongst the greats of rock singers of all time, and these are what she brought out at the SOEC for their first concert ever in this building. Ann Wilson delivered a Tour de Force performance here that moved the audience to extended periods of applause after some songs that likewise seemed to touch Wilson deeply.
All the technical details were tended too with excellence except perhaps for the keys being a little too hot in the mix. Good lighting on the Wilson sisters, clean sound at a loud but not too loud level, good use of above-stage screens.
For many in attendance, this was a rekindling of earlier passions and a reminder of dreams they formed and cherished in years gone by. For all in attendance, this was one hell of a great concert. Heart did indeed make and remake fanatics out of any and all music lovers at the SOEC last night. Bravo!