Ann Wilson of Heart
March 12, 2017
Los Angeles, CA
Review by Shawn Perry
It used to be that when members of bands went solo, it was over issues like bad blood and/or musical differences. That still happens in certain instances, but a lot of seasoned musicians have figured out how to keep their day jobs as band members and moonlight as solo artists. It certainly makes sense in a day and age where musicians struggle to stay in the game. For Ann and Nancy Wilson, the need to work outside of Heart addresses a desire to try on different hats and get out of their comfort zone. Nancy has a new band called Roadcase Royale and Ann has her solo act project, sometimes called The Ann Wilson Thing.
Ann Wilson's 20-date 2017 tour included a stop at the Wiltern, where the singer and her band — guitarist Craig Bartok, bassist Andy Stoller, keyboardist Dan Walker and drummer Denny Fongheiser — blazed through 21 songs. Some were from Heart, others were classic rock covers, blues and standards arranged to showcase the lethal power of Ann Wilson's chosen instrument — her voice.
If there's an angle to this side project, the plot is underscored by the singer's prevailing pipes. Back in 2012 at the Kennedy Center Honors, she drove Robert Plant to tears with an emotive delivery of "Stairway To Heaven." Tonight, Wilson stuck to that high level of vocal virtuosity, pulling back at the right twists and turns and intervals without softening her wail or tone.
The on-stage candles and new age music defied the opener — the Who's "The Real Me." That's one way to wake up the crowd (two more Who songs — "Love Reign O'er Me" and "Won't Get Fooled Again” — came later). "Barracuda" kept up the pace, albeit with a bluesier feel. The blues gave way to smooth jazz on Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You," sustained by light piano and Wilson's sultry vocal.
After teasing the audience with a few passages of the Beach Boys's "God Only Knows," the band shifted into a slow, roving "What About Love?". It's on Heart songs like this that Wilson takes liberties, changing up melodies, tempos and chords. Working on a no-frills, bare-bones stage with a few flashy montages thrown up on the overhead screen for effect, the focus fell squarely on the music.
Naturally, Wilson pulled in songs from the two EPs released under The Ann Wilson Thing! moniker — #1 and #2 focus. The first set ended with "Anguish," one of two songs played that Wilson co-wrote with Bartok, and Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression." During the second half of the show, a passionate rendition of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" and a hopped-up take on Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" were scurried out to favorable reception.
If a third EP is in the works, her interpretations of the Animals' "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place," Yes' "I've Seen All Good People" and the Black Crowes' "She Talks To Angels" would all be perfect candidates, as the Wiltern audience screamed their approval at each turn of the verse. Considering the level of devotion in the room, Ann Wilson could have sung the phone book, and it would have brought the house down.
After nearly two hours, the show came to a calm, inspiring conclusion with a suave reading of Ray Charles' "The Danger Zone." You can't really call Ann Wilson a chanteuse or diva because she's all too real and authentic. Calling her an iconic rock and roll singer is adequate, even though she's so much more. Perhaps it's best not to categorize Ann Wilson. Doing her "Thing" seemed exactly what everyone wanted at the Wiltern.