Ann and Nancy Wilson have been making music together on and off for 45 years, notching their greatest successes in the late ‘70s (“Magic Man,” “Little Queen”) and early ‘80s (“These Dreams,” “Never”). The ladies rode out another wave of success in 2013 after their Kennedy Center Honors cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” sent chills over airwaves…and across the internet.
Creative differences and family issues saw the singing siblings going their separate ways in 2016.
But while Heart may be on hiatus, the Seattle sisters are keeping busy with musical projects of their own. Guitar-slinging Nancy formed blues-rock super-group Roadcase Royale with Portland R&B vocalist Liv Warfield (of Prince’s New Power Generation). Meanwhile, Ann chose to reinvent herself on a pair of EPs (The Ann Wilson Thing #1 and #2) and forthcoming covers album (Immortal) whereon she pays homage to fallen front men like David Bowie, Chris Cornell, Glenn Frey, and Tom Petty.
“All our heroes are dying at once!” bemoaned Wilson during her incendiary show at the Hard Rock in Northfield, Ohio this weekend.
But Ann’s good at turning a sad song into a touching tribute, and (as documented by her “Stairway” interpretation) can take ownership of old material with her impressive command and operatic presence. Surrounded by ambient candles and clad in red and black (with matching red Wonder Woman booties and hints of purple in her hair), Wilson was in terrific spirits on Saturday (April 7)—and appeared determined to send everyone home happy, too.
Here are a few good reasons why you should catch the Heart honeybee on tour, too.
1. Something old, something new
Ann’s mixing Heart hits with a bunch of familiar classic rock covers on her current tour. Heart became well-versed in all things Zeppelin when they toured with drummer John Bonham’s son Jason a few years back, and while she didn’t touch on any Zoso-related material at this particular show, she sprinkled the set with a few Who hits (Quadrophenia, Who’s Next)—including opener “The Real Me.”
2. Hits by The Who...and more
In fact, Wilson book-ended the main set with a pair of Townshend / Daltrey ditties: She crescendoed with a roof-rattling “Love, Reign O’er Me” (and sandwiched a spectacular “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in the middle).
3. Ann's super-powered voice is intact
Heart’s radio smashes have held up nicely over time, and Wilson—now in her 60s—still has the pipes to bring ‘em to life on stage. Mid-seventies singles “Barracuda” and “Crazy On You” brought fans to their feet, and Eighties efforts “What About Love” and “Alone” kept them standing (if not swaying and singing along). Other notable nuggets included The Eagles’ lascivious “Life in the Fast Lane,” The Black Crowes’ power ballad “She Talks to Angels,” and Yes’ pastoral “Your Move.” The latter two were given acoustic treatments by Wilson’s band, whose veteran musicians were adept at shifting between the bombast, fist-pumping rockers and subdued, stripped-down ballads.
4. Ann's band has some talented hombres
Longtime Heart guitarist Craig Bartok juggled electric Fender Stratocasters and acoustic Eastmans, giving each selection the proper timbre and tone. Keyboardist Dan Walker (Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin) noodled on a Mellotron and an OB-6 on a riser overlooking bassist Andy Stoller (Tracy Chapman, Mike McCready)—and also dabbled on accordion. Drummer Denny Fongheiser (Peter Frampton, Seal) anchored everything together with his solid stick work.
5. Good start, great finish
Ann’s encores are epic, and Northfield was certainly no different than other Wilson grand finales. Ohio Heart aficionados were treated to spellbinding—and topical—runs through Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” (Stop, hey…what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down) and Lesley Gore’s personal independence anthem “You Don’t Own Me” (Don’t tell me what to do, and don’t tell me what to say). Both tunes were updated with contemporary sounds (big beats, menacing keys), and Wilson’s vocal execution blended vintage appeal with a modern mystique which perhaps only a superstar of her caliber could muster.
But it ain’t over till it’s over. Wilson and her band returned for a second encore, saying sayonara with soulful renditions of Screamin’ Jay Hawkin’s mid-Fifties hit “I Put a Spell on You” and Percy Mayfield’s dazzling “Danger Zone.”
Like Robert Plant, David Bowie, or Freddy Mercury, Ann Wilson possesses one of those unique voices in rock that immediately identifies her: You tune in to a Heart song in medies res in your car, and the first sung note you hear you just know it’s Ann. It’s astounding that Wilson retains all the punch, inflection, and range of her younger years.
You could say she was magic, man.