It was women in rock's night out Friday as Heart, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, and Elle King delivered the goods throughout a disparate, but entertaining evening at USANA Amphitheatre.
It proved to be an intriguing triple bill as the trio of acts meshed cohesively despite blurring the lines between musical genres and overall strong suits. Presenting three full hours of music over a four-hour stretch, this "Love Alive" tour lineup tapped into the strength of diversity rather than serving up completely similar bands. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
When it comes to female frontwomen, you'd be hard-pressed to find a stronger power couple than sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, a point that was driven home in spades on Friday night. Ann is simply one of the most powerful lead vocalists in rock, a distinction she has earned for decades, and is still fully capable of delivering on.
As a counterpoint/complement on stage, Nancy Wilson is an energetic focal point on acoustic and electric guitars, as well as background vocals and the occasional lead vocal turn.
While the two sisters have been working on separate side/solo projects for the past couple years, there's no denying the power and synergy they create when performing together. Add in an impressive backing band -- featuring Craig Bartock (guitar), Ryan Waters (guitar), Andy Stoller (bass), Dan Walker (keyboards) and Danny Fongheiser (drums) -- and Heart had all the bases covered.
Heart opened with "Rockin' Heaven Down," a track off the 1980 album "Bebe le Strange." As that song ended, lead guitarist Bartock stepped to the forefront and cut loose with the highly recognizable opening to "Magic Man" as a pulse of excitement raced through the crowd. As those lead guitar notes cut through the warm summer night, the point was driven home like so many concert performances before: It doesn't matter how many times certain musical notes or songs have been ingrained in your memory over the years, nothing implants them more firmly in your DNA than experiencing them live. That's true musical magic, man.
"Thank you to every one of you for coming," said Ann Wilson, greeting the crowd for the first time, after "Magic Man." "Tonight we're going places, ladies and gentlemen. We're taking a little trip through the decades."
Those decades proved to be the 1970s and '80s as Heart's setlist traveled from 1975 to 1987 in terms of release date, mixed in with several covers from the same time period, as has always been the band's bent in concert.
Among the covers, there were stellar versions of "Your Move," featuring Nancy Wilson on mandolin, a snippet of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "The Boxer" and one other one which we will discuss a little further down.
Nancy Wilson took over lead vocals on "The Boxer" and "These Dreams," and showed off her silky smooth singing voice.
The Wilson sisters deployed some entertaining between-song banter as well, with Ann noting that the exchanges showed off their real sisterly sides.
"Nancy Wilson!" Ann exhorted the crowd at the conclusion of Nancy's vocals on "These Dreams."
"Thank you," Nancy responded to her sister. "That means a lot coming from Ann Wilson."
"You mean all I have to say is 'Nancy Wilson' and that means a lot?" Ann deadpanned with mock surprise.
"It does if it's coming from Ann Wilson!" said Nancy.
Some additional standouts in the Heart set included the sincere simplicity of "Dog and Butterfly," a revved-up version of "Even It Up" and the slowly building-turned-swirling-cacophony of "Mistral Wind."
The main set closed with the ever-strong "Crazy on You," which set the stage for a truly remarkable three-song encore.
There seems to be a growing trend of bands not really taking a true encore, either staying on stage and playing through, or sometimes going through the motions of leaving without really doing so. Many other bands stick to a standard one to two songs for the added session. However, Heart's three-song, 20-minute encore on Friday was indeed epic.
For starters, anyone who has seen the viral clip of Heart playing "Stairway to Heaven" at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors knows just how emotionally charged that performance was. I mean, it reduced Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant to tears, for crying out loud. So when that song kicked off encores on Friday, everyone in attendance knew they were in something special. Seeing Heart perform that song alone is almost worth the price of admission by itself -- something that small segment of people who stream out of a show early, apparently, forever fail to fathom. No amount of time saved in traffic can atone for missing out on something so extraordinary.
The encore continued with power ballad "Alone," a true vocal showcase for Ann Wilson. If possible, it seemed like she added even extra emotion to this song Friday, to the point that it almost seemed like she was singing it for the very first time and freshly processing the lyrical pain.
Nancy Wilson got the final song under way, blasting out the signature opening riff of "Barracuda" on a Gibson SG. The entire band was on point and wailing away throughout. An incendiary finish to an already fiery show.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts held down the middle slot and rocked out 16 songs in a one-hour set. Jett has performed multiple times locally in summer tour packages in recent years, and has her routine down cold. Even at that, Jett seemed to be a little more animated than usual -- or maybe it was just a case of being able to see her expressions and exuberance more clearly on the two huge live video screens, new this year to USANA Amphitheatre, that added a little juice to the experience.
Highlights of Jett's main set included opener "Victim of Circumstance," Runaways hit "Cherry Bomb," "Bad Reputation," "Light of Day," "Love is Pain" and the band's rocked-out version of "Love is All Around," the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" theme song, which Jett dedicated to actress Valerie Harper, who died earlier in the day.
Jett's backstretch of songs was a tremendous stretch of music. The final three songs of the main set were hits "I Love Rock and Roll," "Crimson and Clover" and the infectious rocker "I Hate Myself For Loving You." The Blackhearts killed them all, setting up a two-song encore of "Androgynous" and their upbeat, infectious cover of Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People."
Elle King opened the show, and presented a strong seven-song set in her allotted 30 minutes. King's voice is a sultry mix of rock, blues and country, and she is ably backed by her five-man band The Brethren. In addition to her singing, King, the daughter of actor Rob Schneider, showed off her skills on guitar (electric and acoustic) and banjo.
In addition to her own material, King and Co. slayed the Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty version of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."
For Heart's setlist, click HERE.
For Joan Jett & The Blackhearts' setlist, click HERE.
For Elle King and The Brethren's setlist, click HERE.