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Two Days With Heart

Two Days With Heart

When you’ve been a fan of an artist or a band for decades, you want the opportunity to have them in front of you as often as possible. Most fans have to settle for a live show every few years and hopefully an album or two per decade. It’s a beggar’s banquet of chances to share the air and even make eye contact from your seat during a concert with your idols.

Not only did I have the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with my favourite band recently; I got two days to bask in their music, hear them talk about their storied career and just generally soak up a lot of amazing vibes and energy from two of the most recognizable women in rock and roll. The saying may be that good things come in three’s. I’ll proffer and amended version of that: Great things come in two’s: Ann and Nancy Wilson.

Day 1

My two days with Heart started at their sold out show at Toronto’s Massey Hall. I brought a friend who is also a big fan and as we took our seats four rows from the stage, you could sense the energy in the room…the electricity and anticipation were palpable. The audience was an eclectic mix of folks from late teens to well into their 60s. We sat next to a couple who were likely in their early 60s and were squirming with excitement to see Heart take the stage. To say the band—and Ann and Nancy in particular—have become iconic is an understatement, judging by the fervent passion this audience had for them.

“We are called Heart and we’re just an old bunch of cronies who have come here to show you a good time!” – Ann Wilson

Heart2As the piped-in music swelled to a crescendo and the lights dimmed, the stage began to glow as the crowd let out a simultaneous roar. Suddenly, Nancy Wilson was standing centre-stage and launched into the iconic opening chords of Barracuda. That was it, the audience leapt to its feet in unison and bums didn’t touch seats until the last chord was played and final note was sung.

After launching a few more monster songs on the audience, Ann greeted the cheering Toronto crowd with a little salutation and a bit of humour. “Oh wow, we must have hit the big city…thank the lord. It’s so great to be here. I’m not going to go into it, but we’re really, really glad to be here,” she exclaimed. “We are called Heart and we’re just an old bunch of cronies who have come here to show you a good time!”

Heart powered through hits from every decade and iteration if its career: Fanatic, Heartless, Kick It Out, Magic Man, What About Love?, Dog & Butterfly, Crazy On You, These Dreams, Dear Old America, Even It Up, Dreamboat Annie, and 59 Crunch. They just kept on coming. But as usual, the ultimate moment in an evening filled with highs was the stripped down, acoustic version of their Number One hit, Alone. This song is a showcase for Ann Wilson’s voice, which has gone from incredible to nothing short of a miracle. The power, passion and seeming ease she sings this song is staggering, finally hitting the money shot in the bridge and never leaping off the emotional peak. Once she finished singing the final note, the audience exploded into an ovation that lasted several minutes, clearly moving Ann Wilson.

Ann_roarThe band roared through the rest of their main set, and amazingly, no one sat down. I have been to more concerts than I care to remember and I don’t recall the last time I was at one where people just stayed up and in a frenzy for the entire time. Amazing. The band closed with a blistering rendition of Crazy On You and left the stage. Now, it was time for the encore. After a few minutes of having the house screamed down by the crowd, Heart returned to the stage for a funky, raunchy, rockin’ take on one their idols, Led Zeppelin, classics, Black Dog. Ann tore the song to shreds proving why Robert Plant was moved to tears for their recent performance of Stairway To Heaven at December’s Kennedy Center Honors.

Then came the coup de grace in the form of their final encore, the Who’s Love Reign O’re Me. One thing Heart can do is cover a classic. With all of their own mega hits, they still know how to be a garage band paying homage to their idols. This was passion and power and pain and longing all rolled into 6-1/2 minutes of sonic catharsis. And to make it even more special they were joined onstage by Simon Townshend, younger brother of Pete.

The crowd went properly ballistic as the band played out the final, shattering chords of the Who classic and left the stage. After that, the sentiment was, ‘Oh my God, I need a drink!”

Day 2

As it happened, Heart was in town for Canadian Music Week. This is when Canadian musicians of all stripes converge on Toronto to share their wares, art, music, insight and generally get together and party like musicians do. This was also someone’s brilliant idea to get Ann & Nancy Wilson to give a rare and exclusive interview and performance showcase. I was lucky enough to not only attend, but be a few feet away form my idols as they chatted and sang. Amazingly, at 49, I felt like that 13-year-old kid who first heard Dreamboat Annie way back in 1976 in Vancouver.

Local rock jock Stu Jeffries of classic radio station Boom 97.3 (and many other TV and radio shows over the years) helmed the interview. Clearly a fan, Jeffries was charmed and a little gob-smacked to be sitting at a small table with the Wilson sisters—but then, who wouldn’t be.

“We’re each other’s sweater. We’re each other’s comfort.” – Nancy Wilson

Ann&Nancy_CMW2_03-22-13Joined by producer and musician Ben Mink, Ann and Nancy discussed everything from their beginnings in Vancouver to their latest album, Fanatic. As always, they were asked about the story behind Barracuda and actually made folks laugh with the now well worn tale of the genesis of that rock classic. Jeffries also asked them about the nature of their relationship after all of these years. What was refreshing was that after being asked that question about a million times, he couched it in a way that avoided the obvious, gossipy angle and got to the heart of it.

“We’re each other’s sweater. We’re each other’s comfort,” said Nancy Wilson in response as they discussed the many dynamics that any sibling relationship has, finally resting on that lovely metaphor for how they have managed to stay inside the familial circle so successfully. They also talked a bit about their elder sister Lynn who has toured with them for years as their wardrobe maven. Lynn also sang background vocals on three early Heart albums.

Of course, an interview with Ann and Nancy Wilson wouldn’t be quite complete without asking about their long overdue induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2013. Though it would be easy for them to take the accolade with an ‘it’s about time’ attitude, they threw much of the thanks and credit to their fans, the Heart Mongers. Nancy talked about how their fans have been so dogged and loyal and practically chased down the RRHOF voters like torch-bearing villagers and worked hard to get the committee to notice them. Sometimes rock stars can be so humble.

Finally, with an event organizer waving a ‘time is running out’ gesture at the stage, Ann and Nancy, joined by Ben Mink, got up and preformed a two-song acoustic set for the packed ballroom. They created a musical circle that began with “a song we wrote as kids and played for our parents.” That was Dreamboat Annie. With just acoustic guitars and flute, the Wilson sisters took us all back to a more innocent, wide-eyed time when the road was wide open and anything was possible.

Ann&Nancy_CMW_03-22-13Their second song closed the loop. Rock Deep (Vancouver) from their latest album Fanatic looked at the same journey that Dreamboat Annie took almost 40 years ago, but from the other shore as it revisited those fantasies and aspirations of a youthful soul but seen through the eyes of someone who has witnessed so much on the subsequent journey. Having lived in Vancouver in the 70s and remembering those halcyon days, I had a tear in my eye as they played.

Then it was done. Ann, Nancy and Ben took their bows and left the stage as the crowd cheered. That hour flew by like a moment, but it is burned in my mind like a lifetime. As a kid, I dreamed of moments like this. In my mind it was grand and spectacular and mind-boggling. Almost 40 years later, it was sweet, intimate, lovely and powerful. An apt description of the two days I got to spend with Heart.

Check out Barracuda from Massey Hall (courtesy TheConcertGoddess):

andrewv100x100Andrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was but a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites.

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  1. That was a great read Andrew!!

  2. Lucky!

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