Photos and Story By Scott Smith
It’s a fourth-degree felony that Heart isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Anyone doubting that founding sisters Ann (vocals) and Nancy Wilson (guitar, vocals) belong in the Hall would have had their sour-puss views crushed at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on Sept. 20. Opening for Def Leppard, Heart became an uncaged animal in front of more than 14,000 fans, offering up thumping takes of “Heartless,” “WTF,” “Barracuda” and the galloping “Magic Man.”
Nancy Wilson first emerged from the backstage curtain with an orange, vintage-looking guitar, as Ann Wilson, dressed in black from head to toe, gripped her microphone stand. Five seconds later, drummer Ben Smith pounded out the percussive intro to Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Like Heart did back in 1980, they took the Zeppelin classic and made it their own via Ann Wilson’s still-impressive wail and Heart’s pumped-up, down-and-dirty playing.
Throughout the 70-minute set, Ann Wilson’s voice held up phenomenally well. She sounded brutally strong on 99 percent of her vocal notes.
“We’re doing pretty good for human beings — humans with frailties and all,” said a smiling Ann Wilson, who wore a black leg brace on her right leg.
“And you’re doing good for human beings, too, ” added Nancy Wilson, speaking to the audience of all ages, before the introspective “These Dreams.”
The band, which included bassist Kristian Attard, guitarist Craig Bartock and keyboardist Debbie Shair, nailed an emotional version of “Alone.” Power-ballad jokes be condemned — Ann Wilson sounded angelic during the hit song’s appropriately tender parts, and as ferocious as Robert Plant ever sounded while fronting Zeppelin.
Heart then did the impossible, raising the bar on themselves with a hypnotic, wall-rattling encore of The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me,” with Nancy Wilson striking epic-sounding chords while her sister’s voice sailed through the interesting arrangement.
When Def Leppard stood in the spotlights 20 minutes later, they sounded as tight and professional as ever. Singer Joe Elliott strutted across the stage as a glam-loving master of ceremonies, and Rick Savage’s bass solo relied more on mood and tone than flashy theatrics.
However, it was Vivian Campbell’s impromptu guitar solo during the lengthy fade out of an A-plus reading of “Love Bites” that stood as a welcomed, much-needed stray away from scripted territory. Def Leppard stood strong, but Heart emerged the better, more inspired group in Tulsa.
Nancy Wilson, as she lashes out edgy rhythm guitar parts and a few solo leads, is one of the most entertaining musicians to see on the stage, and Ann Wilson, without question, is the greatest female singer in all of rock and roll.
The Rock Hall of Fame voters might be deaf to Heart’s pioneering work and present-day work ethic in concert, but their fans at the Tulsa gig stood as a swaying, singing sea of outstretched arms and sustained smiles.