February 26th, 2012, 10:50 am · · posted by ROBERT KINSLER, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Because the annual Front & Center shows held at Honda Center serve as a benefit for Cal State Fullerton’s President’s Scholars Program, they really are two events in one.
Saturday’s first half at the Anaheim arena celebrated the university itself with a series of performances by its theater and dance department, as well as several tributes to former CSUF president Dr. Milton A. Gordon, who received the Orange County Titan Award. Musical star and Cal State Fullerton alumnus Dashaun Young served as master of ceremonies, and several of the most memorable parts of the evening’s opening portion were when he joined more than a dozen students to perform numbers from Hairspray (the rousing “Not Until Then” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat”) and The Lion King (the ballad “Endless Night”).
But ultimately the night belonged to Heart.
The band, led by singers Ann and Nancy Wilson, may have served as warm-up act for Def Leppard at Jack’s 6th Show at Irvine’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater last summer, but here the sisters and their group reminded they can be every bit as big a headliner. Performing a 15-song set chock-full of the band’s best-known originals, the Seattle-spawned outfit’s mostly hard-charging approach in concert was a smart one, wasting no time by launching with “Even It Up,” “Magic Man” and “Kick It Out” before briefly breaking their momentum to greet and thank the audience.
While Heart merits ground-breaker status for being among the first successful bands to feature women in roles beyond singing, it’s also one of the rare bands that survived the ’70s (during which time the Wilsons gained an ardent following on FM radio) only to return as a bona fide monster-hit makers in the ’80s. Many longtime followers of the band were surprised that Ann (61) and Nancy (soon to be 58) didn’t make the cut for induction into the next class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though at least they finally made it onto the final ballot.
The group ranks alongside Hall & Oates, the Cure, Yes, Roxy Music, Linda Ronstadt, Dire Straits, Journey, Pat Benatar, Rush, Kiss, Jimmy Buffett, Stevie Ray Vaughan and dozens more who have been both successful and influential yet have failed to be welcomed into the Hall of Fame, even as decidedly “rock-free” acts like Madonna have gained immediate access.
The Wilson sisters were definitely not snubbed during their 85-minute concert in Anaheim, however. Many in the former Pond cheered wildly when mighty-voiced Ann delivered power ballads such as “What About Love” and “Alone,” and there were cheers for “These Dreams,” enhanced by the blending of the sisters’ vocals while Nancy played mandolin and Ann showcased her skills on flute.
Indeed, the group’s material was really the star: the single most potent performance, for instance, didn’t come in service of their hits but rather via a version of “Mistral Wind,” from the 1978 album Dog & Butterfly, an opus that began with Nancy playing acoustic guitar alone before Ann added her soprano. The song artfully grew until the rest of the band came in, and soon the piece had built into an epic rocker before concluding quietly.
Heart also played a new hard-rock song, revealing that this was the first time it had been performed live. The title wasn’t clear (at least to me), but the vibe and approach recalled Perfect Strangers-era Deep Purple. But that detour didn’t detract from more familiar tunes, including “Crazy on You,” “Straight On” and hard-edged “Barracuda,” complete with Nancy Wilson and Craig Bartock’s shining mixture of lead and rhythm fretwork.
The night ended, as it often does at a Heart show, with the band brandishing its love for Led Zeppelin; this time they rollicked through a mostly faithful and energetic take on “Misty Mountain Hop.” The good news for those who missed Heart this time is that the band just announced it will return to Orange County to perform at Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on Aug. 9.
Photo by Kelly A. Swift, for the Register.