I’ve always enjoyed Heart’s music. But, over the last few years, I’ve really come to respect them as some of the finest musicians in all of rock. For me, it started in 2003, when a friend called me up at the last minute to say she had one extra ticket to the Heart concert at Fraze Pavilion. After some deliberation, I decided to go. But, on the short drive over, it started to rain, and I almost turned around. Boy, am I glad I didn’t.
What I saw that night in Kettering, Ohio was truly remarkable. Ann & Nancy Wilson were backed by several ex-patriots of the Nineties Grunge scene – Gilby Clark on guitar and Mike Inez on bass. These backup musicians were 15 years younger than the two sisters and provided raw, energetic accompaniment. Yet, Ann & Nancy were up to the challenge. The band ran through a set of blistering hard rock, while Ann wailed away in the high register. The only time things slowed down was an Ann Wilson solo performance of “Alone,” which left the entire audience in tears.
I left that night shellshocked. I had never seen a “classic rock” band still so firmly at the peak of their powers. I’m convinced that there was no way Heart were better in the Seventies. They were THAT good. I’ve attended hundreds of concerts, but that Fraze show ranks as one of my favorites, and certainly the one that surprised me the most.
Most older bands simply coast, or at least slow down as the years go on. Yet, Heart have continued to create great music. With 2010’s Red Velvet Car and 2012’s Fanatic, they’ve assembled albums that can proudly sit next to classics like Dreamboat Annie, Dog & Butterfly, and Heart.
They’ve also managed to keep a level of class and dignity that is unheralded in rock. For their memoir, Kicking and Dreaming, which Ann & Nancy co-wrote, they eschewed the typical tabloid, “tell-all” approach, instead choosing to simply be honest in what it was like being a member of Heart. Their fine box set, Strange Euphoria, which the sisters helped assemble, is one of the few collections truly aimed at the fans – it’s obvious the they’re in touch with what their audience wants.
Recently, Ann & Nancy performed “Stairway to Heaven,” the climax to the Led Zeppelin tribute at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors. Do yourself a favor and track this down on youtube. If you haven’t seen this monumental performance, you are missing one of the greatest moments in rock over the last decade. Ann Wilson managed to do the impossible – breathe new life into the most shop-worn classic rock song of all time. She didn’t just sing it, she owned it. So much so, that you could see Robert Plant & Jimmy Page tearing up during the song. This stellar performance makes something perfectly clear – no other musician – no matter what their age – could’ve delivered such a mesmerizing interpretation. This is even more unbelievable when you consider Wilson’s age is 62.
So, Heart is finally getting into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. In my mind, no band deserves it more.