Heart has never been about flash or gaudy presentations, whether musically or on stage.
Yeah, there were those teased-to-Tennessee hairstyles in the ‘80s, but even when Heart’s songs adopted a pop sheen to adapt to the MTV era, the music never lost its melodic structure.
Example A: Their live rendition of “Alone,” stripped to an acoustic guitar and light keyboard, was turned into a prayer of yearning with Ann Wilson’s dynamic and emotional vocals at the forefront. Hearing her hit those notes brought a tear to your eye – or at least it should have.
Even “These Dreams,” which did retain its shimmering keyboard backbone in live form, flourished with a slightly rustic tilt provided by Nancy Wilson’s electric mandolin. And Nancy’s voice, which carries the bewitching ballad, sounded sweet and clear, the honey to Ann’s whiskey.
Heart was unveiling these snippets of their multi-decade catalog Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre in a show that could have run a little longer (it wrapped after about 80 minutes) and could have boasted a few more filled seats (the Fox was about 2/3 full).
But those who were there, though, quickly realized that the sisters Wilson and the rest of Heart – Debbie Shair on keyboards, Ben Smith on drums, Craig Bartock on guitar and Dan Rothchild on bass – planned to rock the faces off the crowd.
It’s been a busy year for the band, with a robust new album, “Fanatic,” their 14th studio work, a summer box set (“Strange Euphoria”) and the fall release of the sisters’ autobiography, “Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll.” And let’s not forget that criminally late Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination.
But both Ann and Nancy looked refreshed and lovely, dressed in various layers of black lace and fringe and prowling and bopping around the stage, respectively.
They targeted a handful of new songs for this tour, which stretches into next year, opening with the new album’s title track – Ann’s purposeful vocals a potent blend with Nancy’s stinging guitar – and later thundered through the Zeppelin-esque “59 Crunch.”
The new material was well-received, as it should be considering how good it is, but of course the ethereal opening of “What About Love” and syncopated smackdown that is “Even it Up” sent the worshipful crowd into spasms of screams.
What a pleasure to hear – and watch – Nancy’s nimble acoustic guitar work on the extended intro to “Dreamboat Annie” and hear the sisters’ heavenly harmonizing on “Dog and Butterfly,” now featuring a pretty almost classical, keyboard as its backdrop until the guitars kicked in.
Nancy, 58, high-kicked her way through “Crazy on You” and faced off with Bartock for an extended solo in “Barracuda,” the frenzied lights instigating the adrenaline that remained through the first encore song, “Magic Man,” its chunky groove offset by the sisters’ eerie harmonies.
Ann then closed the show with another memorable attack of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” Few female vocalists can come close to emulating Robert Plant in his heyday, but at 62, Ann remains a powerhouse with her pitch-perfect howls, yelps and gut-twisting bellows.
Who needs flash when you have this kind of talent on stage?
Opening the show was Texas guitar whiz Tyler Bryant and his band, the Shakedown. A rangy kid with a ton of raw energy, Bryant impressed both with his onstage presence – respectful of his opening slot yet ready to throwdown in a sweaty mess – and his crazy guitar chops.
He’s a bit like Jonny Lang in his early days – a prodigy ready to take things to the next level.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene