Heart’s return mixed, but Joan Jett rips through the classics at Concord Pavilion

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Heart, Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson (left) and Ann Wilson of Heart perform at a previous stop on the “Love Alive” tour. Courtesy: Kimberly Adamis/Heart.

CONCORD, CALIF. — At various points during their 90 minutes or so onstage Friday night at the Concord Pavilion, the Wilson sisters of Heart referred to how long they’ve been around. Ann Wilson said they were going to “wander free through the decades.” Which they did. Only the trip included enough music made famous by other acts to make the evening uneven and a bit odd at times.

After a nasty split that kept the Seattle sisters estranged for three years, Ann and Nancy Wilson made up and hit the road this year. Their fans were ready for them. The Pavilion was packed to the point of vehicles being turned away from the parking lot, and spilling into suburban Concord. More than half the crowd was female, there to celebrate Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famers Heart and Joan Jett. Grandmothers took their grandaughters, middle-aged people broke out the old concert shirts. Everyone seemed primed for a big night.



Heart, Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson of Heart perform at a previous stop on the “Love Alive” tour. Courtesy: Kimberly Adamis/Heart.

They got an OK night. Joan Jett was Joan Jett, which is a sign that all is still right in the classic rock world. Heart? As main vocalist Ann said at one point “We are definitely here.”

That about summed it up.

For a prolific act that’s been around for 45 years, the volume of cover songs Heart played Friday was puzzling. They’ve always been good at rolling through the material of others, but very few fans were truly engaged with their version of “Your Move,” by Yes, which would have been better as a familar rest stop between rollicking Heart classics, but instead came four songs into a set that needed some life injected into it. Things got a little disjointed afterward, when they went into “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” for about a minute before shifting not so far into “Straight On,” which felt like a drink of classic rock water coming out of the cover song desert.

It was strange, again, when they went into Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” right afterward. It’s a great song, and they did a solid version of course, as Heart thrives on taking it down and letting their harmonies and Nancy Wilson’s acoustic guitar shine through. But, by that point, they’d played as many covers as originals, and it didn’t feel like a Heart show as much as it did a classic rock tribute gig in danger of being forced.

Heart, Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson

Ann Wilson of Heart perform at a previous stop on the “Love Alive” tour. Courtesy: Kimberly Adamis/Heart.

Relief came, of all places, from the band’s 1980s catalog, which was a commercial success but didn’t endear Heart to critics.  Nevertheless, the sisters finally hit their stride with a spirited (and, strangely organic-sounding) “These Dreams,” the momentum of which took the band into “Dog and Butterfly,” showcasing the sisters’ effortless, gorgeous harmonies.

Just when they’d grabbed some momentum, things started tailing off again by the end of an OK “Little Queen.” There was a snapshot of the night’s inconsistency: Some people on the lawn, who’d picked up their gear and looked ready to exit, actually put their things back down once the band found some energy for “Even it Up.” And a toned-down and textured “What About Love” (’80s hits again!) gave Ann a chance to unleash her powerhouse vocals, to which the crowd responded with a big singalong.  It was like watching an athlete give one final push heading into the home stretch, before falling back again.



And they did. Two songs later, the band went through the motions during “Crazy on You,” during which Ann seemed to sputter a bit by the end. After the standard brief break for the encore, Heart came back with … “Stairway to Heaven.”

Of course they did.

Granted, very few bands can do Zeppelin like Heart. Their version of “Stairway” at the Kennedy Center Honors earlier this decade brought Robert Plant to tears. But cover songs had already taken up so much of the night, it was almost comical by that point. It sounded fine, and the band carried momentum to another ’80s high point, “Alone,” during which Ann Wilson found her power and just about blew everyone’s hair back. They concluded with “Barracuda,” finishing the evening with just enough Heart to keep everyone happy.

 

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There was no such amibiquity with Joan Jett‘s hourlong opening set. Yes, she plays lots of covers, but Jett may not  be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without covers. Or her absolute coolness. She was clad in black, guitar slung low, and sounded like Joan Jett. Which is always good enough.

Jett ripped through “Victim of Circumstance,” “Cherry Bomb,” “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” “Bad Reputation,” “You Drive Me Wild” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Light of Day” like it was fresh rock and roll territory to be trampled and conquered. It’s difficult not to smile when the 60-year-old former Runaways guitarist shreds through a punk rock version of the Mary Tyler Moore theme (“Love is All Around”), breathes a bit through “Fresh Start” and then comes back huge for “I Love Rock and Roll,” which had the crowd on its feet and fired up. I’m positive I heard a woman telling the youngster next to her to “pump your fist with grandma.”



Clearly, Jett still taps into the joy of rock music like very few can. She had more than 12,000 people chanting the choruses of “Crimson & Clover” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You” until middle-aged throats were raw. Her cover of the Replacements “Androgynous” seemed to curtail things a bit—it’s not exactly a mainstream hit—but she did it with a twinkle in her eye, as if letting a few in on the joke.  She ended her set with a Bay-Area-appropriate cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”

Americana and blues rock singer-songwriter Elle King opened the show with a short set that included her best-known songs like “Ex’s & Oh’s,” as well as—appropriately enough for the evening—a cover of Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” The evening almost became a battle of covers and, if so, Jett ended up with the evening’s best moments. Heart had some difficulty shaking loose, it seemed, but then again, this tour is at least four decades in the making. Just having all that classic music on one stage was enough for one night.

 

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(12) Comments

  1. Scot Larsen

    I thought the show was amazing. Heart has always done incredibly well done covers in their live sets. It's their MO. I don't find any fault in that whatsover so not sure why the reviewer is harping on that. I loved hearing Yes' "Your Move". Ann didn't have the power she had in her heyday but sounded pretty darn good for a nearly 70 year old woman! The musicianship was top notch. It was a top-notch rock and roll show experience put on by unbelievably talented rock and roll legends. I'm glad I got to experience it. It's too bad that women seem to have to walk on water to impress some critics.

  2. Bol

    Well said Scot. Heart was amazing. A real treat to see them live after all these years. I thought the covers variety only added to he show. And show cases Ann and Nancy’s versatility.

  3. Sara

    Interesting review that’s very different from mine. I was there and I thought that Heart was absolutely phenomenal. Ann Wilson’s voice blew me away especially for somebody who is almost 70. I had a very fun time.

  4. Bill

    The guy who wrote this is very bright. He obviously doesn’t know that Heart is also known for singing Stairway To Heaven. I saw them play a few days earlier in Washington and they were fantastic.

  5. Donna Bennett

    That's the worst review I have ever heard. You begin focusing on comments said to the audience? Like it's a concert it is all about the music! Or you would think a review if a concert would be. Correct me if I'm wrong. Way to much time spent on one comment. Tells me some one has an agenda when they began writting the article. Their playing, vocals and song choice was amazing! No one rocks an acoustic like Nancy. She is also an excellent on the electric! Yes, they are here, have been here and many bands you've praised probably didn't stand the test of time. Which shows their commitment to thier fans and the music. Each album, concert and song is put together like a piece of art! Just a testiment to just their pure talent, creativeness and heart! That is what draws the crowds sir. That is what has standed the test of time. They have earned every minute of it. Only their fans have listened, supported, watched, grown through and with their music. You can see it in their excitement as some sing every word on every song they perform as well as dance along. The smiles and happiness of watching art in action done like no other. Personally their music has always inspired me, rocked me and gotten me through some hard times. After their concert which was flawless as well as totally enjoyable! I felt so inspired. I bought a hoodie, three more shirts, two cups and a scarf because I want to show every chance I get how remarkable women can be!!!! Especially them!!!!!

  6. Gene

    I think the review is spot on. I thought the concert lost energy when they did so many slow songs and covers through nearly 60% of the concert. Anyone who says the review "harped" too much on the covers - here's two Heart songs they did not play: Kick it Out and Heartless!!!! Both of those songs could have replaced the 'Yes' cover and the I-Ten cover during the Encore and brought much more energy to place. I asked my wife what she thought and she said Heart was good but she said Joan Jett was sooo much fun stole the show.

  7. Randy Williams

    I’m still very puzzled as to why Dreamboat Annie was not included in this set list. This song should have been included without any doubt.

  8. Craig Martin

    I enjoyed the covers, but not at the expense of the original material that I came to see. I've never seen them before and was really looking forward to it. I would have been nice to see more interaction w/ the other musicians. A wee bit lack of warmth onstage for my taste..., but the biggest bitch I have is one that made the event a drag for me. The kick drum was extremely boomy and clearly wasn't dialed in. It sounded awful. And although not his fault, Denny Fongheiser is the wrong drummer for Heart as far as I'm concerned.

  9. Craig

    The kick drum sounded awful the entire set for Heart. Covers sounded great, but too many and at the expense of their material? Sorry, not pleased. I finally get to see Heart and they do that?

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