Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Heart concert review

A version of my review appeared in the Orange County Register on July 13

Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa
When: July 10
Next: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23 with The Bangles, Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, $29.50-$69.50, on sale now

Classic rock radio enthusiasts in the know got an extended old school fix on Friday. For starters, L.A. station The Sound/100.3 FM replicated the long missed KMET FM era with several original deejays. Then Heart - a format mainstay from the mid-‘70s onward - launched the OC Super Fair’s concert series with a mostly solid 85-minute performance.

One of the first female fronted hard rock acts to find mainstream success, Heart racked up nearly two dozen top 40 pop hits and seven platinum-selling albums during its 1976-1993 heyday.

In recent years, the Seattle-reared group has enjoyed a newfound popularity among young music fans, thanks to the “Guitar Hero” videogames and frequent spotlights on “American Idol” (who can forget Carrie Underwood’s powerful rendition of “Alone” in Season 4?). A children's storybook and CD based on 1978’s “Dog & Butterfly” is due later this year.

Despite an unusually long line to enter the Pacific Amphitheatre from inside the fairgrounds (it stretched all the way to the end of Park Plaza), the venue was packed by the time sisters Ann & Nancy Wilson took the stage with their latest incarnation of Heart. Once that galloping, instantly recognizable electric guitar riff intro to “Barracuda” started the 15-song set, the crowd was immediately on its feet.

Wisely stripping away a bit of the Eighties studio production gloss, “Never” featured Nancy on acoustic guitar and harmonica. She and lead singer Ann, along with keyboardist Debbie Shair, nailed the high flying harmonies. The same held true on a stark, gorgeous “These Dreams” and ultra-dramatic “Alone” – both highlights of the evening. Nancy did a fine extended electric guitar intro on “Straight On” before the band locked into a sultry groove and Ann wailed with her usual abandon.

A pastoral folk rock vibe enveloped “Love Alive” (complete with Ann’s fluttering flute) and the seemingly endless “Mistral Wind” (Nancy’s low slung acoustic seemed out of tune). Both deflated the earlier momentum and prompted a mass exodus by male concertgoers to the beer stands.

The Wilson siblings still indulge their Led Zeppelin obsession live – no surprise to longtime Heart followers. This time, it was an intense “Immigrant Song,” where Ann’s caterwauling rivaled Robert Plant’s and later in the encore section, a relaxed, mandolin led “Going to California.”

Cover time didn’t end there. A faithful take on The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” was truly thunderous. Ann didn’t hold back on her robust vocals and Nancy suddenly jumped all around and continued during a frenzied “Crazy on You.”

Those who came to hear more of Heart’s popular singles, especially from their late ‘80s resurgence, were probably disappointed since “What About Love?,” “Who Will You Run To,” “Nothin’ at All,” “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You” and others were noticeably absent.

Overall though, the Costa Mesa gig proved these veteran rock gals can still deliver the goods.

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