Judge Dan Mancini once thought Nancy Wilson was flirting with him. Then he realized she was just chuckling at his three-cornered pirate hat. It was humiliating.
Let me preface this review by admitting to any die-hard Heart fanatics out there that I'm not one of you. I'm familiar with the band's radio hits like "Crazy on You," "Magic Man," and "Barracuda," and I had my fill of the various power ballads from their self-titled album that were ubiquitous on MTV in the mid-1980s. But that's about the depth of my familiarity with the music of Ann and Nancy Wilson and their rotating band of mostly male musicians over the years.
I don't have to know a ton about Heart to understand this obvious truth, though: Women get a bad rap in the music business. They're usually not taken seriously as anything but eye candy with pretty voices and (usually male) producers acting as Svengalis behind the scenes. Too often they're Divas more concerned with their images in the tabloids than their music. But make no mistake, the Wilson sisters aren't precursors to Britney or Christina or Gwen. Heck, they're not even precursors to the Go-Go's or Bananarama or Madge. They're the real deal. And Heart: Alive in Seattle is a straight-forward concert video that showcases the sisters' confident stage presence (built on 30 years of playing live shows) and variety of original songs that run the gamut from all-out rockers to gentle ballads—all performed by a tight six-piece band featuring Ann Wilson on vocals, Nancy Wilson on guitar and vocals, Scott Olson on guitar, Mike Inez on bass, Ben Smith on drums, and Tom Kellock on keyboards.
The show catches Heart in concert on August 8, 2002—the final show of their Summer of Love tour—at the Paramount Theater in their hometown. The line-up of tunes includes the radio hits mentioned above, deeper album cuts like "Dreamboat Annie," "Dog and Butterfly," and "Mistral Wind," new songs "Heaven," "Sister Wild Rose," and "Break the Rock" (none of which found their way onto Heart's 2004 record, Jupiters Darling, oddly), and a quartet of covers. Heart's versions of "The Wind" by the Sonics and "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin are solid and assured. Their take on Elton John's "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" is even better. And the sisters' tight vocal harmonies and Nancy's mandolin playing make their rendition of "Battle of Evermore" (another Zep tune) stellar.
Here's the full set list:
• "Crazy on You"
Let's puts aside talk of Heart as that ultra-rare variety of band that is led by women and talk a little about them simply as a band that's weathered the good and bad in a career that began back in 1975. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the performance on Heart: Alive in Seattle is Ann Wilson and her prodigious pipes. She moves effortlessly from fiery full-throated rockers to delicate ballads, sounding pretty much like she did back in '75. Be it Robert Plant or Roger Daltry or whoever else, I'm hard-pressed to think of a male lead singer who could still deliver the same sturm und drang of his youthful years three decades after beginning his journey to rock stardom. Nancy's no slouch either. She's still capable of high leg kicks and some wicked guitar. The Wilsons impress by flexing their musical muscles, instead of dazzling us with programmed lasers, a troupe of choreographed dancers, and endless costume changes. They rock.
Heart: Alive in Seattle originally took its high definition bow on HD DVD. This Blu-ray edition is minted from the same 1080i VC-1 video master. Don't let the interlaced image scare you away. The show was shot with HD cameras, providing an incredibly detailed and colorful image. The relatively intimate performance (in a theater that seats a few thousand), which mostly relies on the dynamism of the Wilsons and their band to maintain the audience's attention, is staged with a simple but colorful lighting program and warm unostentatious stage dressing. It all looks superb in high definition.
The DTS HD 5.0 soundtrack is mixed well, delivering all instrumentation and vocals clearly and with a sensitivity to the aesthetics of live performance. Despite the absence of LFE, the low register comes through clearly, though it isn't felt in the bones (at least not at the volume I was playing it).
Extras are limited to a smallish photo gallery, fairly detailed liner notes about the show and tour, and some shout-outs to family, crew, and supporters.
The bottom line here is that, if you're a Heart fan, watching this latter-day concert outing won't leave you with the stale aftertaste of having seen some bizarre geriatric version of your favorite band. Ann and Nancy Wilson aren't new to the game, but they can still bring the noise.
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