January 31, 2013
Mayo Performing Arts Center
Review by Ralph Greco, Jr.
Photos by Ron Lyon
It’s one of the formative concerts of my life: Heart at the Capital Theatre Passaic, New Jersey in 1978 (italicized in my mind forever). Having seen Ann and Nancy Wilson front a band with a revolving door of members over the years since and having lost touch with the sisters during their big hair 80s phase, I tend to compare what I see and hear Heart doing now to what I knew of them in 1978. The band’s last two releases, Fanatic and the one before it, the fantabulous return-to-1978 sound of Red Velvet Car, gave me high hopes of catching Heart this night in the wild environs of Morristown, New Jersey.
Touring with the tight four-piece band behind them consisting of Ben Smith on drums, Craig Bartock on guitar, Dan Rothchild on bass and the amazing Debbie Shair reproducing keyboard parts down to the letter as well as adding some great vocals — the Wilson sisters took the stage promptly at 8:00, opening with “Bebe le Strange,” the title track of their 1980 album. The sound was a little thin — I blame it on a sound mix I hoped would (and did) get better by the next tune — but then “Fanatic,” the title track of their latest album, followed and simply rocked.
Shair’s keyboard opened “Heartless,” a real surprise to me and a spot-on read, especially with the perfectly placed piano accents. I got a good idea of not only how tight the band was, but the shape of Ann Wilson’s pipes — pretty much still great! She covers some spots with a scream where she used to round out the phrasing more, and you can notice she doesn’t hold notes in exactly the same way. For the most part, however, she still delivers one of the best rock and roll voices ever.
We got Nancy singing “These Dreams” and we got an early roll out of “What About Love,” but there was a sweet rendition of “Alone.” As MTV-inspired commercial drek that these tunes were back in the day, I have to say that Ann kicked “Alone” out of the park with an amazing vocal over a simple, evocative arrangement. This was the best version I’d ever heard.
Ann picked up flute and Nancy grabbed an acoustic for “Dreamboat Annie.” Ann told the audience it was one of the first songs she and Nancy ever wrote. Shair led a unique arrangement on the very pretty “Dog and Butterfly.” For me, the highlight of the night was “Love Alive” from Little Queen. This one featured Nancy on acoustic, Ann on flute, Smith hitting every accent perfectly, and Rothchild rolling that bass riff to mine every nuance.
The regular set ended with what I pretty much expected — “Crazy On You” into “Barracuda,” both svery strong and well received. The band returned for “Magic Man,” a perfect showcase for the excellent control Bartock showed all night. Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” finished off the night — a solid hour and half show from Heart at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. Thanks ladies.