Judge Bill Gibron dreamt he was a willow bending over a clear running stream, kept alive by Heart's sweetly flowing musical love.
Our review of Heart: Night At Sky Church, published March 26th, 2011, is also available.
Cold late night so long ago, when I was not so strong you know…
For adolescent boys growing up in the '70s, Ann and Nancy Wilson were pure rock chick fantasy fodder. They were Led Zeppelin in Renaissance gowns, hot babes blasting out arena riffs with just a little 12-string flair along the fringes. Their debut album Dreamboat Annie featured the fabulous AM anthem "Crazy on You," while Little Queen delivered "Barracuda" and the wistful title track. By the time of Dog & Butterfly, they remained as much name as novelty, perhaps the only mixed gender band led by two extremely talented women ever. Sadly, as with most acts from the era, video tried to kill the radio star, and the Wilsons adapted, albeit begrudgingly. While the consultant friendly hits kept coming ("These Dreams," "What About Love?"), arguments over image (and Ann's weight) and AOR sellouts threatened to undermine their relatively rigid reputation. As hair metal gave way to grunge, however, Ann's and Nancy's Washington-state roots reinvigorated their importance.
Now, an astonishing three decades later, the gals are back and better than ever. Soundstage: Heart Live, from the show's third season (2005), captures the group giving in to its love of all music. In between its numerous classics are sensational covers of Zeppelin and Elton John tracks, and there is a nice combination of all-out amplified anger and slowed-down acoustic clarity. The 110-minute set list includes:
• "Sand"—previously unreleased
If there is one reason to own this wonderful musical compendium by one of rock's seminal acts, it comes seven songs in. After running through the MTV-ready (and quite routine) number "These Dreams," Ann and Nancy take the stage alone. Armed with only a mandolin and an acoustic guitar, the pair breaks into the classic Plant/Page number "The Battle of Evermore." In that moment, Heart seals its status as a major musical force. Using nothing more than their instrumental skill and still viable singing voices, the ladies literally own the track, turning it into the kind of titanic tour de force you expect from a bunch of battered boys. It can't be stressed enough how amazing this sequence is—it's as if everything the Wilsons have been striving for all these years arrives, fully formed, in this brilliant and demanding duet. This is not to say that the rest of the concert is ineffectual or lacking fun. But when faced with this level of genius, it's hard to come back down to rote realities.
That being said, the material from 2004's Jupiter's Darling is equally successful, the band bringing real authority to such memorable numbers as "Oldest Story in the World," "Lost Angel," "Make Me," and a real showstopper, "Love Alive." Naturally, the better-known tracks get the intimate audience's fists pumping. Surprisingly, several significant chart-toppers are missing, including "Heartless" (from Magazine), "City's Burning" (from Private Audition), and, most shockingly, "Never" (from their 1985 "comeback," Heart). Of course, the same complaint could be leveled against noted album tracks. In these circumstances, you have to give the gals a little leeway. How could anyone as prolific as the Wilsons find a way to work almost forty years of material into a single concert? They can't possibly satisfy everyone. What they do manage is to sustain what is already a passionate following and growing critical acknowledgement. Thanks to this Soundstage presentation, their rock 'n' roll standing is more than secure.
Offered in a wonderful 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image, the crystal clarity of the digital transfer here will blow you away. While not quite reference quality (there's a bit too much flaring in the onstage video screens), the overall high-definition picture is near pristine. It is a colorful and carefully controlled experience. Equally impressive is the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. The mix magnifies the power of the performance, putting you right in the front row as the Wilsons roar to life. As for added content, there is a 9-minute interview with Ann and Nancy that focuses on their fan base, the beauty of playing guitar, and the mandatory discussion of gender and body image issues. It's an insightful and quite warm conversation. From the tech specs side of things, this is a wonderful DVD package. When you consider the quality of music within, it validates the nature of live performance, and DVD's ability to capture it. In Heart's case, that leads to something timeless. Not guilty.
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