The phenomenal Heartbreaker Tour featuring Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience and Heart is just now at an end after over two months together on the road. Let's all just hope that they do it again soon. This combination is too fantastic to be a once in a lifetime event. The energy and electricity in the air was over the top; the communal devotion to the music on the part of the artists and the audience gave the night a feeling that was almost beyond this world.
Fittingly, the night opened with the thunder of Jason Bonham's drums as they announced the beginning of 'Rock and Roll', the first of eight flawlessly executed Led Zeppelin numbers. Mr. Bonham was a force to be reckoned with as he blazed his way through the exhilarating set which featured spot on renditions of 'Black Dog', 'Over the Hills and Far Away', 'What Is and What Should Never Be', Nobody's Fault But Mine', 'The Ocean', 'When the Levee Breaks' and 'Whole Lotta Love'. Like his dad, Jason has the gift of finesse, knowing when to go heavy, when to go light , and how to time his masterful playing impeccably. He was warm, enigmatic and engaging, often stopping to chat with the crowd. Jason told us that the show would be a little bit different that night, without the usual movies of his dad in the background but that, as always, it would be a tribute to John Bonham with "no screens, just pure love", and that it absolutely was. He prefaced the fifth number, 'Nobody's Fault', by introducing it as a song from the "underrated" album 'Presence' which, as he pointed out, featured so much outstanding musicianship, including of course his father's magnificent contribution. He then proceeded to properly represent his family name by nailing the challenging drum pattern. Later, leading in to 'The Ocean', Jason counted off as John famously had,"Done four already, but now we're steady, and then we went, one two three four!!", encouraging us all to join in. He had us chanting in unison again: "Bonzo, Bonzo, Bonzo" as a welcome to perhaps the most celebrated drum intro in history, 'When the Levee Breaks'. 'Whole Lotta Love' was appropriately chosen to finish out the JBLZE set, which had flown by. As we said goodbye to Jason, Tony Catania (guitar), James Dylan (vocals/guitar), and Dorian Heartsong (bass), we were all very happy to know that we'd be seeing Jason again a little later on.
Next it was time for Heart. Wow. Ann and Nancy Wilson have somehow managed to stay as good as they ever were, and that is fantastic. Ann was in full voice, Nancy's virtuosity on guitar and mandolin was ever present and their stage magnetism continues to be at once powerful and transcendent. There was no lack of love between artists and audience here either, that's certain. The set opener, 'Barracuda', immediately had the crowd back up and on their feet. Heart maintained the uptempo momentum throughout four numbers: 'Heartless', 'What About Love', 'Magic Man' and 'Kick it Out'. The band then slowed things down a bit via the moody piece 'Mistral Wind' which began with Nancy Wilson's classic acoustic intro and led us on an atmospheric journey, gradually including Ann and the other superb musicians of Heart: Craig Bartock (guitar), Dan Rothchild (bass), Debbie Shair (keyboards) and Ben Smith (drums). Later in the set came a unique treatment of the lovely 'Dog and Butterfly', with the lively instrumentation accentuating the playfulness of the lyrics perfectly. Next in line was the only cover of the night that didn't belong to Led Zeppelin, 'I Need You to Turn to' by Elton John, a favorite of the Wilson sisters. The fog and mist around us suddenly increased and prompted Ann to declare how much she welcomed the air in San Francisco, with Nancy announcing that it was good to back in the city of her birth.
It should be mentioned that the America's Cup Pavilion was a wonderful venue in which to experience this stellar performance. For it's size, the amphitheater somehow managed to create an intimate vibe, at no point bearing any of the characteristics that can be such a turnoff in many arenas. The space is well thought out, comfortable, and simply but well appointed with attention to detail, for instance a coconut filtered stainless steel water refill station. Impressive. The entire staff, including security, was friendly, informed, efficient, and made everything easy. The view at ACP was lovely too, especially as the night mist muted the lights of a nearby San Francisco hillside.
And now for the piece de resistance: the magnificent encore set by Heart and Jason Bonham. Following Heart's set proper Ann and Nancy reappeared and launched into 'The Battle of Evermore' which they've performed many a time as Heart's acoustic alter ego - Lovemongers. It was breathtaking. Jason then joined them, along with Craig Bartock, Dan Rothchild, Debbie Shair and Tony Catania. As someone who is surely happy that so many people adore Led Zeppelin and want to play their music, I have to say that I don't typically seek out such performances, preferring to listen to Zeppelin themselves. That said, I was blown away by this show. From the thunderous gallop of 'Immigrant Song' to the overwhelmingly beautiful 'The Rain Song' this team proved themselves to be worthy. The crowd cheered ecstatically throughout the set, singing along, dancing, and embracing the power of this memorable night in August. It was no surprise to anyone that the event ended with 'Stairway to Heaven'. In fact, bowler hats reigned supreme in the first 10 rows of the venue. Of course, Heart and Jason's stunning version rose to platinum status following their brilliant and touching Led Zeppelin tribute at last year's Kennedy Center Honors. It was that glorious occasion that sparked this happiest of artistic alliances and long may it continue to delight us all.
The Heartbreaker Tour setlists - August 28, 2013
Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience:
Rock and Roll
Over the Hills and Far Away
What is and What Should Never Be
Nobody's Fault But Mine
When the Levee Breaks
Whole Lotta Love
What About Love?
Kick it Out
Even it Up
Dog and Butterfly
I Need You to Turn to
Dear Old America
Crazy on You
Encore set (Heart, Jason Bonham and Tony Catania except where noted):
The Battle of Evermore (Ann and Nancy acoustic)
Misty Mountain Hop
The Rain Song
Stairway to Heaven
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