There are very few performers whose musical and visual qualities have firmly established them atop the Rushmore of Hard Rock, like Heart. The group's climb up the majestic mountain of success and enduring relevancy can only be matched by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Who, to name a few.
Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson, the band's only remaining original members, are responsible for having blazed a trail for women in rock, proving that women could be band leaders rather than merely eye candy.
The two have brought to the world an interesting potion, mixing mystical folk, hard rock, and power ballads that hold up well due to their efforts, as well as those by three different basic male-supporting band lineups over the course of 40-plus years.
The list of accomplishments, awards, and honors bestowed upon the successful sisters over the past 40-plus years is well known. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 11 Top 40 albums, 24 Top 40 hits, 35 million records sold and, most important, a staunch, supportive, and enduring following the world over.
All of this, yet it was surprising that over the course of a 90-minute, 17-song show, the Wilson sisters performed 12 originals, leaving a handful of well-crafted powerful Heart classics on the green room table.
What was more disenchanting was that despite her one-of-a-kind vocals, which on one hand made her the female beacon of rock power and on the other a calming, come-hither spellbinder, Ann seemed to be going through the motions.
As she and her Heart mates delivered fan favorites, the set seemed often mechanical.
With a near full house, the Wilson sisters arrived on the Celebrity Theatre's circular stage, and Ann introduced drummer Ben Smith, guitarist Craig Bartock, bass player Dan Rothchild, keyboardist Chris Joyner, and, of course, her sister Nancy.
With a band as legendary as Heart, known for its dramatic songs with the potential for equally dramatic delivery live, there was no inspiring improvisation. There was a set to play, and they played it.
The night started with "Kick It Out" and "Heartless" in rapid-fire succession, and right away, one could tell Ann Wilson still has the mastery of manipulating her vocals with undulating accuracy, but it was Nancy who appeared to be having fun, as she be-bopped around the stage like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
Ann could not seem to get comfortable on the legendary Celebrity Theatre’s rotating stage, which gives fans on all sides a close-up view of the performers.
Following the ballad “What About Love” and rocker gem “Straight On for You” Ann said, “This place is powerful; there is no place to run and no place to hide.”
The show was not without its periodic moments of uniqueness as Ann broke out her flute on “Dream Boat Annie” and Nancy led the band with passionate vocals on the Elton John cover “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters." The song's connection to Heart, of course, is that Nancy’s onetime husband, former rock journalist and filmmaker Cameron Crowe, used the song in the emotional final scene of his film Almost Famous.
The evening wore on as Heart filled the middle of its set with ballad-laced mid-'80s anthems in “These Dreams” and “Alone”, on which Ann seemed most inspired, often closing her eyes as she belted out each verse.
Wilson dedicated the patriotic number “Dear Old America” (from the group's most recent studio album, 2012's Fanatic) to all war vets and the people who welcome them home. The song was inspired by the Wilson sisters’ late father, a veteran.
Like all quality musical performers, Heart crescendoed the set with slow ballads setting and then ramping things up it up, so as to go out guns blazing, Heart finished out its set with a trio of rockers, including a golden nugget from fellow Northwest '60s rockers The Sonics on “The Witch”, which the band played in near punk rock tempo, getting fans up out of their seats.
The song that should have been saved for its finale, came next in the guise of “Crazy On You.” Nancy lit the match with her folksy, almost classical guitar virtuoso pausing midway before pouring it on with the Heart signature guitar lead as Ann took over — a woman possessed.
Heart reached its pinnacle of performance on that song and it proved to be the highest of highlights. The set was then kept ablaze with “Barracuda” before the band left the stage.
Many other Heart classics were snuffed out of the set list including, “Magic Man,” “Dog & Butterfly,” "Nothing at All,” and “Hey You.”
The band opted for a trio of Led Zeppelin covers for its 15-minute encore. “Immigrant Song," with siren-like Robert Plant-like howls, was warmly received as Nancy Wilson and Bartock traded guitar licks.
The dreamy, mesmerizing, yet dragging, “No Quarter” from Led Zeppelin's House of the Holy followed, but if this was a way to wind up the audience one more time, it had already reached its ebb on "Crazy on You." Kudos to keyboard player Joyner who added some cool sounds to carry this number, and show one reason he is on the rise as a solo artist.
The encore finale then came with Ann leading the group through "Misty Mountain Hop.”
All in all the band played a pair of its classic cuts from Little Queen, Dog & Butterfly, Bebe le Strange, the 1985 chart-topping self-titled Heart, and a trio of numbers from Dreamboat Annie, among its 12 originals.
When you set the bar as high as Heart has done throughout its illustrious career, sometimes it can be hard to reach that bar when you entering the twilight of your career and still aggressively touring.
Opening up for Heart was up-and-coming female rocker Charlie Rae, who is no stranger to Phoenix. The one-time local street musician, who now lives in San Diego showed she has some powerful chops and a soulfulness in her vocal delivery. Where she needs to harness her powered vocals, and set herself apart from a field of like-minded female rockers, Rae has a flair for connecting with the audience, and is an adept songwriter.
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Friday Night: Heart with opening act Charlie Rae at The Celebrity Theatre.
Kick It Out
What About Love
Straight On for You
Bebe Le Strange
Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters
Even It Up
Dear Old America
Crazy On You
Misty Mountain Hop
The Crowd: As to be expected, the majority of fans at this classic rock performance were aging baby boomers, like myself. They ranged from the diehards to the more passive ’80s hit fans. Because of the legendary reputation fans cheered for all songs, but were seemingly tolerant of the omissions of other famous Heart songs. To them, Heart came and delivered the goods, played enough of the hits from which they could sing along, head bob, and sway. There were even a few drunks having sloppy make-out sessions.