Heart’s Nancy and Ann Wilson took the Hollywood Bowl’s breath away last night. (Norman Seeff)
I’ve never seen as many standing ovations at one concert as I witnessed last night for Heart, the legendary rock band fronted by Ann and Nancy Wilson. For all their awards and accolades (35 million albums sold, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, 20 Top 40 singles, four Grammy nominations, etc.), one can’t possibly understand how integral Heart is to music history without seeing them live, and for two consecutive nights at the extremely packed Hollywood Bowl the Wilson sisters offered their fans the unique experience of hearing some of their songs performed with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins.
Saturday night’s show began with the R&B/rock stylings of Liv Warfield. The former Notre Dame track star and gymnast showed off the powerful vocals that made Prince invite her to be a member of New Power Generation six years ago on tracks like “Stay – Soul Lifted” and “Why Do You Lie.” Warfield – clad in tight, black leather pants and a shimmering black crop top with ultra song sleeves that gave her the appearance of having wings whenever she raised her arms – got audience members up on their feet and clapping along as she danced around the stage. She closed out her set with the in-your-face “Blackbird,” complete with explosive horns provided by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
Principal Conductor Wilkins of the orchestra then gave the crowd exactly what they had come for, introducing Heart to the stage, and they launched into a pulse-quickening cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” You might be scratching your head as to why the band would choose to kick their set off with a cover, but Heart’s ties to Led Zeppelin go back many years. Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” was a fixture of numerous Heart shows; the Wilsons (accompanied by Jason Bonham on drums) brought Robert Plant to tears during a rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors; Heart also toured with Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience the following year, capping off each concert with a half-hour tribute to the band.
The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra added dramatic flair to familiar songs like “What About Love,” which also showcased guitarist Craig Bartock, and uptempo rocker “Kick It Out,” as well as enhancing the beauty of tracks such as “Dreamboat Annie,” featuring a gorgeous flute solo from Ann, and “Dog and Butterfly.” Ann asked the crowd to wish a happy birthday to drummer Ben Smith, who along with bassist Dan Rothchild, drove the funky “Straight On.” In addition to acknowledging keyboardist Chris Joyner, Ann introduced Nancy as her “soulmate, best friend and partner in crime.”
After calling Ann “the world’s best rock ’n’ roll singer” in turn, Nancy showed off her own, more folksy and softer vocals on Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.” Nancy informed the crowd that lyrics for that song were written by Bernie Taupin, who also penned the words for the band’s first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and the next song of the night, “These Dreams.”
Nancy, in an all-black ensemble of a lace skirt and animal-print stockings and top, stepped a little to the side while Ann, wearing a flowing purple dress with lace sleeves, reassumed lead vocal duties at center stage. I mention their lace-embellished outfits because as the opening notes of “Alone” were played, I was instantly transported to my bedroom in 1987. I sat with my face just inches from the TV, completely transfixed by Ann with a bit of lace covering her eyes as she belted out lyrics and by Nancy on her knees, bending over backwards playing guitar as smoke enveloped the stage. It was the first time I had ever witnessed women rocking out just hard as men, and I was totally hooked.
I confess that a few tears fell from my eyes as Heart did the song at the Bowl, but I know I’m not the only one whose breath was taken away by the performance. Everyone around me was standing, cheering and clapping for Ann’s absolutely flawless vocals. The excitement and powerful emotions continued as Nancy, armed with her acoustic guitar, launched into “Stairway to Heaven.” At the end of the Led Zeppelin cover, the audience gave Heart another standing ovation and remained standing when the band departed the stage until they reemerged for an encore.
Ann thanked the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for their accompaniment, but Heart would perform the final three songs of the night on their own. Hearts raced as her voice rang through the entire venue with the familiar “ah, ah, ahh, ahhhhhs” of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Next, Nancy once again picked up her acoustic guitar and absolutely shredded on the intro of “Crazy On You,” which in my opinion is one of the most perfect rock songs ever. It builds from quiet first notes into a fiery explosion of acoustic guitar; then electric guitar, drums, bass and keyboards join in before Ann croons then howls the sexual yet politically and socially influenced lyrics.
It seemed as if the crowd’s energy couldn’t get any higher, but then Heart went straight into their signature song, “Barracuda.” Everyone in the Hollywood Bowl yelled out the words and clapped for the Wilsons, giving them their longest, loudest and final ovation of the night.