Photos & Story by Scott A. Smith
Forget their big-hair music videos that dominated corners of MTV back in the 1980s. Heart will mess with your mind and erase any bad misconceptions while on the concert stage, taking no prisoners and serving up a gritty rock sound that floors non-fans.
Led by siblings Ann (vocals) and Nancy Wilson (guitar, vocals), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band devastated the naysayers and created goosebumps for the faithful with an infectious, full-tilt set Oct. 17 at the Joint inside the Tulsa Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
The gig rocked hard — really, really hard — and proved again that Heart aren’t shackled to their temporary dip into power-ballad land some 30 years ago. Sure, “Alone,” “What About Love” and Heart’s only No. 1 single, “These Dreams,” all from the ’80s, found their way into the perfect set, but there was an edge in the live readings felt by the audience that was absent from the original studio incarnations.
When “Alone” arrived mid-way through the spectacular, 16-song concert, it was stripped-down and beautifully raw. Instead of opting for the ’80s-style sheen that accompanied the original studio version, the Wilsons toned down the musical side of the track, but Ann’s lead vocal rocketed to the technical and emotional level of the late Freddie Mercury. Ann’s voice was splendidly stunning here, causing an unusual hush to spread across the otherwise party-like audience.
Nope, there wasn’t any head voice or falsetto going on anywhere at all in “Alone.” Ann hit every single high note — and the song has a plethora of high-range vocal moments — with her full voice. She inhibited every syllable of the track’s lyrics, sounding desperate and near heart-broken territory on the somber verses and wailing with unbridled passion on the epic choruses.
Heart opened the show with the one-two punch of “Kick It Out” and “Heartless,” two fan faves from the 1970s that lunged with genuine energy and conviction from the Wilsons, guitarist Craig Bartock, drummer Ben Smith, bassist Dan Rothchild and keyboardist Chris Joyner.
“We’re going to play this song — a song we’ve never played before live,” Nancy later said while introducing the wonderfully haunting “Two.”
Nancy surprised some fans when she extended her acoustic, Spanish guitar-esque introduction to “Crazy On,” letting her nimble right and left hands get percussive and funky in between the pristine picking. The blonde Wilson also danced, scooted her feet and, on occasion, kicked the air as her Orange guitar amps tossed out aggressive riffs and impressive solo bits.
Still refusing to hold back, Nancy launched into the six-string beginning of “Barracuda,” bending her neck and hitting harmonics as the Led Zeppelin-flavored guitar pattern galloped for the roaring crowd. Zeppelin fans also were spoiled with terrific versions of “The Immigrant Song,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “No Quarter.” Performed under spooky, purple-and-blue stage lights, the latter was just as fantastic as the one heard and seen in Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” concert film. (Yes, you read that correctly, friends.)
Clutching a camera and donning an ear-to-ear grin, Rothchild met with friends and fans in the lobby following the concert.
“Hey, thanks so much for coming to the show,” the bassist told fans while posing for photographs and shaking hands.
A half-hour earlier, fans were marveling at Heart’s sound and take-charge stage presence.
“Wow, Ann Wilson looks great for someone in her 60s,” said one audience member.
“What are you talking about?” another fan replied with a grin. “Heck, both the Wilsons look great — and they sound great — for people of any age.”
“I think they sounded better than the last time they were here at the Joint,” a third person said with a look of disbelief on her face.
This writer didn’t think it was possible that Heart could achieve a higher level of greatness than when they opened for — and upstaged — Def Leppard at Tulsa’s BOK Center in late 2011. But Heart did it on Oct. 17, and they did it even without playing “Magic Man.” Standing on an almost bare stage, Heart radiated by using only five musical instruments and the best living voice in all of rock and roll. Without question, Heart is one of the greatest touring groups right now, worthy of being seen and heard, again and again and again.