There’s a scene in the 1978 movie “Superman,” where a distraught Superman makes the Earth spin backwards and therefore reverses time. It appears that the circular, turning stage found in the middle of the audience at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix has a similar effect. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, Heart, returned to the Celebrity Theatre Sunday night, April 27, 2014 and after a ninety minute set on the revolving stage, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, the driving force behind Heart, appeared to be getting younger.
How else can you explain Nancy, blazing on guitar, kicking up her feet more at the end of the concert than at the beginning? Or Ann’s long black hair, wildly going astray, as she headbanged during the encore? Clearly the Wilson sisters aren’t resting on their laurels once they were enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. They showed that not only do they deserve such recognition for their body of work, but that they do more than go through the motions when performing it.
It all starts with the person at the center of the stage, Ann Wilson. The strength of her voice is incredible, whether the tone required is shout it out loud rock for a song like “Barracuda,” soft and crisp while singing “Dog & Butterfly,” or show-stopping power for “Alone.” It might be cliché to call her voice another instrument on stage, but a Heart song (Nancy Wilson’s “These Dreams,” notwithstanding) isn’t a Heart song without Ann’s voice.
And if you got it, flaunt it. Some vocalists might start a concert choosing to ease into their vocal range. Not Ann. The angry power of Ann’s voice found in the original recording of “Barracuda,” was present again with Heart’s opening number. The band came out swinging and never looked back.
A “long string of songs from the 70’s” followed. With one exception, 1985’s, “What About Love,” Heart played a cavalcade of hard rocking hits from their early days. Craig Bartock’s stellar lead guitar work was evident with small solos on songs such as “Kick It Out” and “Even It Up.” Nancy Wilson’s harmonies with Ann on “Heartless,” and “Straight On,” were flawless. Heads were bobbing on stage and off for “Bebe le Strange.”
For those that like their Heart music a little more mellow, the band obliged. Nancy switched to acoustic guitar and Ann’s vocals slowed things down with the haunting “Nothing But Love.”
The sounds from the keyboard of Debbie Shair made one think of raindrops as Ann strummed along on acoustic guitar to a very stripped down version of “Dog & Butterfly.” With Nancy’s harmony, the song’s performance was proof that sometimes less is more. The audience’s enthused reaction certainly verified that idea.
Nancy remarked that playing on the Celebrity Theatre’s revolving stage was “like being on a lazy Susan.” She then served up a helping of “These Dreams,” her only lead vocal of the night. If you only get one chance, then do it right and Nancy certainly did.
At this point, if you hadn’t realized yet what a gift Ann Wilson’s voice is, you probably were just arriving for the concert. But just in case you needed a reminder, the next several minutes belonged to Ann. Her singing of “Alone” is always spellbinding and was once again. The control Ann has in her voice from the softness required in parts to the power house chorus is breathtaking. She earned a long, loud standing ovation.
With the Phoenix performance being part of the “2014 Fanatic Live” Tour, it was no surprise that Heart played a couple of songs off their latest studio album, 2012’s “Fanatic.” “Mashallah!” was a great choice to turn the now mellow evening back into the rock fest that had started the night. With Ben Smith’s drumming, Dan Rothchild’s bass and Nancy’s guitar work the song had an almost Led Zeppelin feel to it.
“Dear Old America,” a song written with the Wilson sisters’ Marine Corp father’s return from war in mind, was as hard rocking as any Heart song you’ll find. Had Ann’s familiar vocals not been on the song, you might not have known it was Heart.
Nancy’s acoustic guitar picking morphed into the familiar chords that begin “Crazy On You” and the crowd was back on their feet for the regular set closer. Nancy kicked up her heels, danced around stage and went crazy on the guitar.
A sea of lit cell phones (a far cry from lighting your Bic, which many audience members might remember doing for their first Heart concert) brought back Heart for three more songs. For those that missed last summer’s Heartbreaker tour by Heart, the three song selection gave a taste of what it might have been like to hear Heart cover Led Zeppelin.
There are not many vocalists who should ever attempt Robert Plant’s vocals that begin “Immigrant Song.” Ann Wilson is one that can. There was no holding back the band at that point. Heart was in full rock and roll mode.
As wonderful as Ann Wilson had been all night, her vocals on “The Rain Song” were spine tingling. The band’s performance of the Led Zeppelin classic was goose bump inducing. Another standing ovation turned into an audience and band frenzy for the final “Misty Mountain Hop.”
The Wilson sisters may have been performing as Heart for almost 40 years, but somehow, they have found the fountain of youth. They sound great in concert and the energy they bring is infectious. Should credit go to the Celebrity Theatre’s revolving stage that is somehow turning back the hands of time? I guess we’ll just have to see how much younger Heart looks next year.
Set list: Barracuda | Heartless | What About Love | Bebe Le Strange | Kick It Out | Even It Up | Straight On | Nothing But Love | Dog and Butterfly | These Dreams | Alone | Mashallah! | Dear Old America | Crazy On You | Encore: Immigrant Song | The Rain Song | Misty Mountain Hop