Heart – Cincinnati, OH (Concert Review)

Heart with the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience: The Heartbreaker Tour – Riverbend Music Center – Cincinnati, OH – 7/27/13 (review)

Ann & Nancy explore their Zep roots and show they can still bring it

Heart’s connection to Led Zeppelin has always been a strong one.  Their early singles like “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda,” were heavily influenced by the British quartet, and the sisters almost never played a show without slipping in a Zeppelin number or two.  When it came time to pay tribute to their idols, Heart returned the debt – unleashing a stunning performance of “Stairway to Heaven” last year at the Kennedy Center Honors, featuring Jason Bonham (son of John) on drums.  It was a rendition so good, they were forced to make it a download on iTunes.  A recent Icon Fetch interview with Ann Wilson revealed other future plans involving their Dog & Butterfly album, but nurturing this link between Zeppelin and Heart just made sense.  Hence:  The Heartbreaker Tour.

The night opened with the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience.  The eight-song set, which led with a spirited take on “Rock and Roll,” managed to be both furious and reverent at the same time.  Lead singer James Dylan eerily evoked Robert Plant, deftly hitting those banshee wails with ease, while the rest of the band faithfully captured the spirit of their drummer’s lineage.

Then Heart took the stage to the crunching chords of “Barracuda,” and you realize that Ann Wilson hasn’t lost anything.  While most classic rock bands are now tuning down and singing in a lower register, Ann still nails the crazy high notes in songs like “Heartless” and “Kick it Out” with precision.  It was a lean, 13-song set – a run through of their biggest tracks with no filler.  They played a lone new song off their fantastic recent Fanatic album, “Dear Old America,” and paid homage to another hero, Elton John, in “I Need You to Turn To” (a song off Elton’s 1970 debut).  The sisters made reference to “surviving the Eighties” before diving into a gorgeous “These Dreams.”  Ann turned in a passionate take on their #1 smash “Alone,” while Nancy showed off her acoustic chops during the final song of the set, “Crazy on You.”

With Bonham back in tow, Heart returned with a six-song encore of Zeppelin classics.  They began with a chilling take on “The Battle of Evermore,” which featured only Ann & Nancy on acoustic guitars and vocals, and left everyone with goose bumps.  The moody “Rain Song” gave way to the face-peeling “Immigrant Song” – Robert Plant always struggled with this song, and almost never played it live, yet Ann owned it. The last two choices were obvious – the ominous, Middle Eastern churning “Kashmir” was fantastic, but was merely the appetizer to the show-stopper, “Stairway to Heaven.”  Ann turned in a spine-chilling, drop-dead performance.  The arrangement was similar to the Kennedy Honors, featuring the choir at the end.  Once again you realize that nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, can sing this song as well as Heart.

Very few veteran bands are still turning in top-notch performances – Heart is definitely on that short list.  If you haven’t seen them yet – you will not be disappointed.  –Tony Peters