Heart

April 6, 2013
Aquarius Outdoor Amphitheater
Laughlin, NV

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Maria Younghans

With a little less than two weeks before their induction into the fabled Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Heart stopped by for a quickie at the 3,300-seat Aquarius Outdoor Amphitheater in Laughlin, Nevada. Ann and Nancy Wilson, and the present incarnation of Heart, stood on a stage literally 20 yards from the drift of the Colorado River, treating fans to an intimate, rockin’ night filled with the band’s greatest hits from the 70s and 80s, alongside fresh cuts from their latest studio effort, Fanatic.

Walking into the comfy confines of the amphitheater, situated behind a six-story parking garage adjacent to the Aquarius Hotel and Casino, I could tell this wasn’t your garden-variety Heart audience. Frankly, there were more than few bewildered tourists who looked as if they’d never been to a rock concert in their lives. The lights dimmed and the band took their place just a few minutes before the scheduled 8:00 start time. And without warning, the churning riff that is “Barracuda” erupted, chunkier than its studio counterpart — full-throttle rock n’ roll, the kind that sent some of the neophytes unaccustomed to raucous bottom-end packing. Well, at least the three couples seated directly in front of yours truly.

With a better view, I was able to assess what a tight little band Heart is. “Bebe Le Strange” kept the intensity in check, its hazy refrain effortlessly proffered by Ann Wilson — with a voice virtually undiminished after four decades — and backed by sister Nancy and keyboardist Debbie Shair. The pace stayed on the mark as the band dove into “Fantatic,” the steely title track from of the new album. The crowd scarcely reacted beyond polite applause, but then “Heartless’ reeled ‘em back in with a Moog undertow;  the aisles began to fill with revelers, weekend warriors and amateur filmmakers with eyes tightly trained on small iPhone screens. Martin Scorsese watch out!

“I hear there’s a lot of drunk people here tonight,” Ann announced before the band fell into another new one called “59 Crunch.” It proved to be the perfect foil for “Magic Man,” which put guitarist Craig Bartok in the driver’s seat and Shair revving her Moog on the breaks. After a rowdy run-through of “Even It Up,” Ann introduced “Dreamboat Annie” as one of her parents’ favorite songs written by their daughters. Ann serenaded the front row with her flute and Nancy gracefully strummed her acoustic. I half expected the mutineers to come crawling back.

Nancy took the mic, remarking, “It’s a pleasure to be at the parking structure” as she glanced up into the spotlights parked on the fourth and fifth levels. You could even see a couple of enterprising souls on the sixth level taking in the show for the price of an elevator ride. Between Heart and Buddy Guy, plus with a Brew and Blues festival, next door, the river was a bedlam of icky sticky guitar licks, with fans springing up in the unlikeliest of places. Makes you wonder if anyone floating on the water was feeling the celestial arrangement of “Dog & Butterfly.”

What’s amazing about Heart is that they continued to have hits in the 80s. There was a time when Ann and Nancy Wilson disavowed those days, due largely to the record company’s grip on the music — written by outsiders — and the group’s image, which had to play well on MTV. Heart’s credibility, of course, survived and songs like “These Dreams,” with Nancy taking the lead vocal and breezily sweeping the strings of a mandolin, and the all-acoustic “Alone,” both left the audience spell-bound.            

Ann dedicated a third new one, “Dear Old America,” to the fighting soldiers and veterans, adding that their father had served. Nancy grabbed the spotlight for an acoustic solo, with shades of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” segueing into “Crazy On You” and culminating in the famous kick the guitarist is known in close circles for. The band took their leave and after a five minute chant of “We Want Heart,” returned for a pair of Led Zeppelin nuggets — “Black Dog” and “Misty Mountain Hop.”

It should be apparent by now — even perpetuated by an upcoming summer tour with Jason Bonham — that Heart does Zeppelin about as good as anyone. On “Black Dog,” drummer Ben Smith pummeled the fills with aplomb while Ann Wilson finessed the verses of without treading — perhaps enhancing — on the melodies. Nancy and Bartok traded leads on “Misty Mountain Hop” and the show came to a rousing close just before 9:30.  It was that simple and satisfying. Making my exit, I could hear George Martin’s “Pepperland” filtering through the speakers — an obvious ploy to mellow the flock as they made a mad dash for the nearest casino or bar. Probably to get drunker.

 

 

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