Heart at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 8/14/2013
Photos by Jim Bricker
Heart, Jason' Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion August 14, 2013
You know, Wednesday night proved that the boys that could learn a thing or two from the ladies in Heart on how to rock the hell out. Those Wilson sisters are freakin' awesome from head to badass toe.
From the moment Heart hit the stage, following an amazingly rad set from Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience (who we'll get to later), they were some ass-kickin', vocal slaying, guitar- and mandolin-shredding musicians, and it was so refreshing to see a pair of women who rocked as fuckin' hard as they did. Seriously. It renewed my faith about just how strong women can be as musicians. No gimmicks, all rock and roll.
Opening with a sudden burst of their 1977 hit "Barracuda," before the lights even came up to illuminate the stage, Ann Wilson's voice was as unique and recognizable as it always has been. She's arguably one of the best rock vocalists around, female or not, and that velvety wail was thankfully as goose bump-inducing live as it is on albums, right from the start.
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Nancy Wilson, Heart's instrumental mastermind, was right behind her sister, shredding the shit out of her guitar, and as the two sisters tore apart that song -- Ann with her flawless vocals, and Nancy with those epic guitar riffs -- it was apparent that these ladies were long overdue for this year's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I mean, really? What the hell took so long? One song in, and these ladies had proven themselves to be the real deal. That induction should have happened many years ago, but I digress.
As they launched into the next song, "Heartless," it was pretty obvious that the crowd, along with these badass ladies, meant business. Every single person in that massive amphitheatre was out of their seats and playing air guitar along with Nancy, while half of us were juggling an air-guitar/hairbrush/bathroom-mirror-singing combo, completely immersed in Heart's catalog.
I had to wonder if it's ever strange for them to look out among the crowd and seeing this massive sea of people doing a piss-poor job of replicating their skills (myself included; I'm not judging), but it was kind of awesome to know (as an audience member and voyeur) just how into the music everyone was. No one cared about how ridiculous they looked. They just jammed.
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And there was quite a bit to jam to. Heart did a pretty darn good job of covering just about every hit they've had over their long-lived career; everything from "What About Love" to "Alone" was on that set list, and I'll be damned if my partner in crime, who claimed on the car ride over to the Woodlands that she only knew about four Heart songs, didn't sing along, air-hairbrush in hand, to every single one. I suppose Heart is one of those bands, though, where you forget just how many really good songs they've had until you see their catalog played out in front of you.
But the Wilsons also provided a couple of really clean, stripped-down moments that made a much-needed break from all the air guitar, too. Ann gave her vocals a chance to really transform and shine during the more subdued "Dog & Butterfly"; hearing her tone down those massive pipes was an interesting change of pace. Her vocals are normally so powerful and full of this mesmerizing punch that toning it down for the folksy songs almost feels like she's sneaking you an abundantly sugary treat well past your bedtime.
Despite the satisfaction that those hushed moments bring, it would be easy to overdose on that sugar, and it seems Ann knows that, so the band kept those those songs to a minimum, cutting the saccharine with the bitterness of the band's acidic guitar licks and that purr-screaming for good measure.
Nancy also gave us a bit more of herself than we normally see; she pulled off an amazing acoustic cover of Elton John's "I Need You to Turn to," with just her, a guitar, and a stool onstage. Her vocals are such a different fabric than her Ann's; she's a strong singer but her voice is nowhere near the magnitude of Ann's. But really, whose is? And she's such a great musician that you forgive the rest.
Heart quickly bounced back into the raucous, emotional rock that these ladies are so known for, though. All eyes were on Nancy as her guitar rang out with those opening notes to their massive, haunting hit "Crazy On You." It seemed the entire audience was holding their breath in a collective bit to steer her on. She teased for a moment, drawing out her part, and in one swift move, kicked the air, and it was fucking on.
There went Ann's vocals, spurred on by that kick into high gear, and she was howling into the night about the tragedies of the Vietnam war and all the social unrest that defined the '70s. It was apparent in that moment that their music is just beyond timeless. Nothing felt dated or old, there was no scheme they were following. It was primal and raw, and they melted our damn faces off.
Normally that would have been the pinnacle of the night, and we all would have left satisfied as hell, but it didn't stop there. After a short intermission and a loud plea for an encore, the Wilson sisters emerged back onstage to belt out another six songs -- not Heart songs, though.
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Instead, they busted out some freaking awesome Led Zeppelin tracks with the help of late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham's son, Jason Bonham, and his band Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, who had already opened the show quite successfully. Standing ovation for the opener successful.
I almost can't describe to you how it is to see such a talented group of musicians in a cohort, playing some of the best music ever written, but it was seriously phenomenal. Bonham is a flawless drummer with his dad's abilities and his dad's stage presence, yet a unique style that sets him apart. Nancy, meanwhile, was made to rip out those Zeppelin riffs. She's all grit, iron, and stealth on everything she does. She's a tiny powerhouse, and impossible to stop watching.
Oh, and Ann killed Robert Plant's vocals. She's the yin to his yang; the female counterpart that was built to lay into those notes, and she did every single song justice. From "Kashmir" to the closing "Stairway to Heaven," she tore every single note apart with ease, leaving no survivors. Her closing notes shut shit down, with the crowd no longer attempting to keep up. We just stood there, mouths agape, at what was going on.
So yeah. To summarize, there's not much more that I can say other than it was brilliant. Brilliant musicians, brilliant set list, and brilliant show, and anything you can do, these chicks can do better. Truth.
Personal Bias: I am a serial hairbrush-singing offender, so what better band to hairbrush-sing to than Heart, or Heart playing Led Zeppelin?.
The Crowd: I have never seen more fools rockin' out so hard. Young, old(ish), and everywhere in between. Lots of parents with their teenage kids; thank God we're passing along some decent musical taste to the younger generations.
Overheard In the Crowd: On the way out, it was eerily silent as everyone took in the night. A man broke that silence, murmuring to his wife that "Nancy's hands must be made out of steel." Damn right, sir. Damn right.
Random Notebook Dump: That "Stairway to Heaven" cover was damn near spiritual, and I found that to be entirely ironic.
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