Ann Wilson has always had one of the greatest voices in rock and roll.
When we saw her last year opening for Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers (read my review here), we were pleasantly surprised to hear that she still had it. Unfortunately, she only performed a couple of Heart songs that night, sticking instead to covers she’d just recorded for a solo album. She was on the road without sister Nancy because of an ugly family situation that had driven the two longtime collaborators apart. Fortunately, they healed the rift over the winter, and this summer hit the road again together for the first time in three years.
Now, here they were in St. Louis, the first of 52 cities on their Love Alive tour, which also features Sheryl Crow, who put on a terrific set of her classics and some tunes from a new album she’s releasing next month (including songs she recorded with Stevie Nicks, Maren Morris, and Joe Walsh). To be honest, Crow was the best act of the night and could easily have headlined the tour, but I suppose she had to defer to the Wilson sisters, her elders, whose influence she said was the reason she got into the music business in the first place.
Between songs at one point, Crow claimed that a promoter initially wouldn’t book this tour because, “You can’t just have women on stage or men won’t come to the show.” Then she pointed out that the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater was packed all the way to the back of the lawn — and there were plenty of guys in the crowd (I’d guess around 40%). Ironically, despite the woman-power speech, of all the backing musicians on stage that night, there was only one female, the keyboard player in Crow’s band, who was never given the opportunity to solo.
After an intermission, the Pretenders song “I’ll Stand By You” played over the speakers, perhaps a reference to Ann and Nancy rekindling their relationship both on and off stage. They started with a deep cut from the 1980 Heart album “Bebe Le Strange” called “Rockin’ Heaven Down,” then moved straight into their monster hit, “Magic Man.” Next came a quiet interlude with “Love Alive” (complete with Ann on flute) and “Dog and Butterfly,” in which both women sounded great.
That was followed by the oddest part of the show. With the drummer thumping out a rhythm, it sounded like they were heading into “Straight On,” but first sang a verse of the Motown classic, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” before segueing into their own tune. That was followed by two more covers: Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” (sung and played beautifully by Nancy) and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (all six minutes of it, complete with 1970s throwback laser effects).
Heart’s renditions of these tunes were full-throated and fine, but seemed oddly out of place by a band that has had so many hits of its own. Why fill that time with other people’s work when your catalog includes songs like “Even It Up,” “Kick It Out,” and “Heartless,” to name a few?
My only other complaint was the order of songs at the end of the show. Once you’ve played “Barracuda,” you wave to the crowd, say good night, and drop the mics. Instead, Ann and Nancy followed it with two power ballads, “What About Love” and “Alone,” both of which were big hits for them, but seemed anti-climactic after the rafter-shaking power of “Barracuda.”
Otherwise, it was a pleasure to see the Wilson sisters side-by-side again, and to know that, even in their late sixties, these women can still rock.