August 1, 2010 Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson have been together through the good times and bad over their 35 plus years in the groundbreaking rock band Heart. It boggles the mind to think of the hours spent riding with each other in the tour bus, recording songs in a studio, or putting on a show on stage. But what’s even more impressive is how the two musicians, with the help of a stellar band behind them, can pull of a concert that’s just as musically genuine and exciting as ever.
Promoting their first album of new material in half a decade, Heart’s Red Velvet Car Tour rolled into Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion with both the old and familiar routes to revisit, and some new avenues to explore. The energy and passion in the Wilson sisters, along with their absolutely stunning talent that never seems to fade, is the reason why watching Heart perform continues to be a thrill that can’t be matched.
There are so many powerful songs from the catalog that Heart could choose from to open their set. In the past, they’ve opted for the thumping drums and blazing guitar licks of “Wild Child“. But for this tour, “Cook with Fire“, a seldom played track from Dog & Butterfly, provided a stirring introduction of the Wilson sisters and company. The lights were dark when Nancy Wilson began to toss her hair back and rip on the guitar near the front of the stage, and before long, her sister Ann joined her at the microphone with a flute in hand.
It was both unexpected and effective; the band indeed made a great choice in opening song. And what followed was a grand mix of ’70s triumphs, ’80s knockouts, inventive new material, and cover songs like only Heart can do them.
Heart isn’t one of those nostalgia acts that’s toured non-stop ever since their formation. In fact, the band took a lengthy break in the 1990s before mounting a return in this decade. But the kind of energy that Ann and Nancy have indicates that they’re simply made to be on stage. The crowd had plenty of energy too, and it picked up as the songs rolled by. The outdoor venue was standing with hands in the air for much of the set, happy to be jamming out with their rock heroes.
One of the show’s biggest moments? That was right before Ann’s scorching high note in “Alone“, when she walked across stage and gave a thumbs up to the sound crew, who in turn probably gave her a sound boost before she gave it her all. It was all goosebumps when the fans screamed wildly for her.
It’s easy to tell that Nancy Wilson still gets a buzz from her acoustic jam that starts “Crazy on You“. She put on her rocker face, swung her hands across the guitar, and did a jump-kick as the lights flashed and the song went into full gear.
“[My sister Ann] has a voice like no one else in the world” – Nancy’s introduction of her sister during the show couldn’t have been more accurate. Talent and ability come and go for some, but Ann’s voice stands crisp and powerful to the point of disbelief. Strutting across the stage with confidence while belting out notes that left the Baltimore crowd in awe, her stage presence is still something to behold as well.
“Barracuda” brought out so much excitement that Wilson knocked down her microphone stand. It appeared to be a planned rock n’ roll moment until a roadie emerged to place it back up.
Surrounding the Wilsons on stage in 2010 are drummer Ben Smith, keyboardist Debbie Shair, bassist Christian Attard, and guitarist Craig Bartok. Longtime axeman Howard Leese departed over a decade ago, and Bartok has been filling his shoes with skill since 2004. Heart is a band that’s been through more than its fair share of lineup changes, but this latest gang of musicians did a fine job of maintaining the integrity of songs old and new.
Speaking of the new, fans were treated to four selections from the forthcoming album Red Velvet Car. There’s a deeper meaning behind the album’s title, explained Ann.
“When everything is going wrong and you are in the worst possible place, you call that one friend you can count on, they are your Red Velvet Car.” Although there seems to be a more mellow vibe to the fresh studio tracks, one of them – “WTF” – was in the hard rockin’ Heart vein.
Leaving the crowd with a memorable exit is something that Heart has perfected. And their weapons of choice this time around were covers of Led Zeppelin and The Who. Ann’s vocal renditions of “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “Love Reign O’er Me” were chilling to say the least, while Nancy appeared lost in the music as she played. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t feel like a “cover” song when Ann & Nancy are at the helm, instead it sounds more like a song being given new life with the same spirit of the original.