Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
August 23, 2016
Los Angeles, CA
Review by Shawn Perry
Heart Photos by Charlie Steffens/Gnarlyfotos
Joan Jett Photo by Maria Huizinga
Cheap Trick Photos by Don Redondo
The mid to late 70s saw a radical shift in popular music. Heavy blues-rock, glam and prog gave way to a diverse landscape that spawned disco, punk, reggae and any number of hybrids. Bands arose from all corners, proffering their slice of the pie to the evolving soundtrack, but few stood out. Looking back, Heart, Joan Jett (first with the Runaways and later with the Blackhearts) and Cheap Trick each had a stake — and the drive, ambition and chops to keep it going 40 years later. Now, as Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, they’ve come together for the trifecta of the summer with the appropriate tagline — The Rock Hall Three For All Tour.
They may be past their arena-rock prime, but Heart, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and Cheap Trick all belong on a big stage in a big room, and the Forum provided the perfect platform. An early start (6:45) appropriated hour-long sets for Cheap Trick and Joan Jett, while Heart got an extra 15 minutes or so. That was just enough to get all the obligatory hits in with a little wiggle room for the unexpected.
Putting Cheap Trick on first filled the house to about two-thirds capacity — not bad when you consider this was a Tuesday night in Los Angeles, where traffic more often dictates a late arrival. Of course, as they always do, Cheap Trick came out swinging. For the first half of their 15-song set, the Rockford quartet dove deep for buried treasure with cuts like “Big Eyes” and “Voices.” They also included "Blood Red Lips" and "No Direction Home," from their sensational 2016 release, Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello (and they probably could have gotten away with a couple more).
After bassist Tom Petersson crushed through a harrowing solo, he stepped up to the microphone to take the lead vocals for Velvet Underground’s “I'm Waiting For The Man” with a pinch of “Heroin.” Definitely not one for the kiddies. Once the extended jams were over, the band jumped into the hit parade, firing off “The Flame,” “I Want You To Want Me,” “Dream Police” and “Surrender” in quick succession. Were there others they could have played? Absolutely, but with limited time, the band made the most of it as Rick Nielsen brought out his five-neck Hamer for “Goodnight” to clinch the night’s first home run.
The big stage allowed for a quick switch, and before you knew it, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were in motion. Their rough and ready set was filled with feel goodies and bad-ass knucklers. Nothing defines Joan Jett more than the opening “Bad Reputation” and its follow-up, the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb.” Jett’s takes on Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” the Arrows’ “I Love Rock 'n' Roll” (played a little faster than its studio counterpart) and Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Crimson & Clover” are as well-worn as the originals (and in the case of “I Love Rock ‘N Roll,” more famous and high charting), and they each had the crowd churning.
Like Cheap Trick, Jett mined a couple — “TMI” and “Any Weather” (written with Dave Grohl) — from her most recent album, which, in this case, is 2013’s Unvarnished. During another cover, Bruce Springsteen’s “Light of Day,” the backdrop showed clips the from 1987 Light Of Day movie, which featured Michael J. Fox and Jett, in her only major feature film role, as his sister. Like her other covers, this one clearly belongs to Jett. Just before launching into “Fake Friends,” Jett’s longtime producer, manager, collaborator, partner-in-crime Kenny Laguna, lurking in the shadows behind a keyboard, spoke briefly about the song’s history. The set ended with yet another cover (and Top 40 hit for Jett), Sly Stone’s “Everyday People.”
Around 9:20, the lights lowered amidst shades of the Beatles wrapped in a tribal gnash, and the stage, even bigger without the openers’ gear, welcomed Heart. The band didn’t waste any time in getting the house into the spirit with “Wild Child,” a thumper from 1990’s Brigade album. Singer Ann Wilson looked resplendent in a shiny red dress, while sister Nancy kept it a little more low-key, despite her bountiful blonde locks.
Together, the Wilsons and the rest of Heart — guitarist Craig Bartock, drummer Ben Smith, keyboardist Chris Joyner and bassist Dan Rothchild — did everything they could to live up to their self-imposed label of “schizophrenic” by mixing it up with deviating styles from various eras. “Magic Man” was edgier in spots, while “Even It Up” smacked you right in the face. Nancy Wilson uncharacteristically took over lead vocals for two consecutive songs — “These Dreams,” Heart's first Number One single, and “Two,” from the band’s 2016 release Beautiful Broken.
After “Straight On” and “Kick It Out,” the title track from Beautiful Broken, even without Metallica’s James Hetfield, kept things heavy. That is until the spell was broken with a somber and light reading of “Alone.” But then “Crazy On You” ramped the momentum up, opening the slate for the night’s most ferocious numbers. No one was going to let Heart leave the stage until they did “Barracuda.” The song’s punch got a leg up from the vintage footage of the band’s classic lineup on the wide backdrop screen. Nancy jabbed the chords with an SG and Ann sang it with all the passion and angst of a teenager — and it’s easy to understand why this song never gets old.
The encore was as befuddling as it was remarkable. Long accused of being a little too much like Led Zeppelin, Heart embraced it by finishing up with two Zeppelin classics — “Immigrant Song” and “Stairway To Heaven.” You could even say it was a Heart tribute to Zeppelin as the famous four symbols flew across the screen seemingly filled with Viking ships, hedgerows and glittering gold. Ann Wilson’s vocals on ‘Stairway To Heaven,” which moved Robert Plant to tears during a 2012 performance at the Kennedy Center Honors, was a bit more restrained, but just as powerful. Needless to say, it brought the evening to a thundering close.
Certainly, as Heart, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and Cheap Trick are more than willing to seek and share their influences, be it Velvet Underground, Tommy James or Led Zeppelin, you have to recognize the lasting impact they themselves have made on their own. You’ll encounter few arguments when it comes to each of their well-deserved inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.