Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Cheap Trick

September 8, 2016
Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Saratoga Springs, NY

Review by Dave Gardiner
Photos by Stan Johnson (Joan Jett Photo by Kimberly Annette)

The Rock Hall Three for All returned to the East coast with a fun show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Concerts in the 70s were commonly a three-bill show and this brought back memories of that tradition. All inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick seem to be enjoying this tour.

Cheap Trick opened after a rainy start to the evening. Fortunately things cleared up for the folks on the lawn and the band ran through a rocking set. Starting with "Hello There" from the group’s In Color album, singer Robin Zander was in fine voice and guitarist Rick Nielsen with his vast guitar collection showed up to spin picks into the crowd (he's obviously been buying guitar picks in bulk for years).

Strangely, we heard nothing from the band’s 2016 studio release, Bang Zoom Crazy...Hello. A highlight was a short bass solo by Tom Petersson followed by the Velvet Underground’s "I'm Waiting For The Man." The set climaxed with "I Want You To Want Me,", "Dream Police" and "Surrender." I miss drummer Bun E. Carlos but have to admit Daxx Nielsen covered the drum kit quite well.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts came out next, opening with "Bad Reputation," followed by the Runaways song, “Cherry Bomb.” And who doesn't love "Cherry Bomb"? By now, the house was full and I spotted this guy lurking in the shadows, next to the drum kit, playing keyboards. It turned out to be Joan's co-producer and partner Kenny Laguna, who really rounded out the sound with his vocals. Still promoting the 2013 studio album Unvarnished with songs like "TMI" and "Soulmates To Strangers" (hint: the vinyl w/ download is an excellent bargain). Jett pleased the crowd with sing-alongs to "Do You Want To Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” and "I Love Rock and Roll."

The set also had a couple of songs from the album called Album. You know the one with the yellow background where Jett is jumping in the air. I still have the poster that I bought back in the day. The latest incarnation of the Blackhearts features Dougie Needles on guitar, Hal B. Selzer on bass, and drummer Thommy Price, who has been keeping the beat for Jett since 1986. Together With Jett, they did "Fake Friends" nicely and closed with Sly Stone and the Family Stone’s "Everyday People." I adore Joan Jett and she set the bar high.

Heart's set of music was very entertaining. I'd seen Cheap Trick before and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts many times, but this was my first experience seeing Ann and Nancy Wilson in concert. The band was incredibly tight with a lineup that features Craig Bartock on guitar, Chris Joyner on piano, Dan Rothchild on bass, and Ben Smith on drums. No slouches for sure! Opening with "Wild Child," their sound was clear and Ann's vocal range was powerful. When they went into "Magic Man," the crowd went nuts.

SPAC is a perfect venue for this bill and the audience responded to all the hits. "What About Love" was well received and I couldn't help but notice that Nancy can really play the guitar. I was happy to hear my favorite Heart song, "These Dreams," which came out when I worked at a record store in Hawaii. I must admit that I didn't understand the songs from the 70s as much. At the time, I found the sound too commercial and felt that they crowded the radio and repetition alone made me less of a fan. "These Dreams" was the first hit they had where I felt, "Hey, I get this!" Nancy also took the lead vocal for the song "Two" from 2016’s Beautiful Broken.

The band rocked out on “Straight On." From Little Queen, their 1977 album, they did "Kick It Out." Probably the song that I enjoyed the most was the title track from Beautiful Broken. Too bad they didn't have a vinyl copy of Beautiful Broken at the merch table because I probably would have picked it up. I was pretty amazed by the vocal ability of both sisters. The power ballad "Alone" really showed Ann's voice has gotten even better over time. I almost forgot about that song but remembered the video on MTV. Finally, it was time to work the crowd up into a frenzy with "Crazy On You" and the ever popular tune that made them bona fide stars, the one and only "Barracuda." A infectious level of excitement took over SPAC.

It was a mistake by the few who try to beat the crowd to leave before or during the encore as the band showcased their talents on two Led Zeppelin classics: "Immigrant Song" and "Stairway to Heaven." This left me with a smile on my face, knowing that maybe in the 70s they were playing "Dog and Butterfly," but also were learning how to rock like the Hall of Famers that they are. The music from all three bands exceeded my expectations. Rock is safe.

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