At the Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco: Heart is an American hard rock/folk band that was founded in 1974, uniting musicians that had previously been a part of various groups in the U.S. and Canada. After one more personnel change — a new drummer, the Heart lineup gelled and released their accomplished debut album Dreamboat Annie, distributed in the states in 1976.
From that point until the end of the decade, the Heart lineup included sisters Ann Wilson (lead vocals, flute, violin) and Nancy Wilson (vocals, guitars, mandolin), both of whom wrote the music and also played keyboards, along with Roger Fisher (lead guitars), Howard Leese (keyboards), Steve Fossen (bass) and Michael Derosier (drums).
Despite a troubled second album, which was properly released as Magazine (1978) after a change of labels, the band produced excellent follow-ups Little Queen (1977) and Dog and Butterfly (1978). This is the core period for Heart’s music, brimming with confidence, Zeppelin-esque riffs, real Moog synth and tight backbeat. The group experienced success in the early ’80s then revivals later that decade, again in the ’90s and through to today.
Heart has been performing in the San Francisco bay area almost every summer season at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. This year, they made a rare appearance in the city at the newly remodeled Masonic Auditorium on September 17, 2015. The venue, known for excellent acoustics, now has the floor arranged in three tiers as general admission standing room only, which allowed the crowd in this instance to rock out to the band’s hits from their long career.
Tracks included fan favorites like the opener “Kick It Out,” along with “Straight On,” “Crazy On You,” “Even It Up” and set closer “Barracuda.” The band has always been fond of playing covers, and this night was no exception, as Nancy introduced a beautiful rendition of Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” and a rocking version of “The Witch” by the Sonics. The sisters share a well-known love of Led Zeppelin: Heart’s entire encore was made of Zep tunes “Immigrant Song” (yes, chills!), “No Quarter” and “Misty Mountain Hop.”
This was an excellent night for rock ‘n roll, which saw Ann in near-perfect voice, so key to this band hitting its stride in concert. Nancy also lent rich lead vocals on a couple of her tracks, accented by great stage moves timed to clever riffs on acoustic and electric guitars. New keyboard player Chris Joyner and bass from Dan Rothchild along with Ben Smith, Heart’s drummer since 2003, filled out their sound. Of particular note, lead guitarist Craig Bartock — with the band since 2004 — nailed crisp lead riffs and solos that harken back to the original studio recordings. All in all a great night; highly recommended.
I’ve been researching all the available films of bands from the ’70s and artists of the New Wave ‘80s. In the case of Heart, there are several clips from their core period, culled from performances on Midnight Special, Saturday Night Live, and others, but as yet I’ve not located a feature-length film of the band performing live on stage during the ’70s. However, there is one brilliant 55-minute film of Heart playing live in front of an enthusiastic studio audience at KWSU (Washington State University, Pullman) just after the completion of their first album.
The film, shot in 4:3 aspect ratio and titled The Second Ending, was originally broadcast on April 9, 1976 on a local PBS station. It features Heart playing nearly every track from their debut, Dreamboat Annie, along with two from their as-yet unreleased second, Magazine. The set opens with an energetic instrumental, which features Ann Wilson playing a rocking lead on flute that must have given Ian Anderson pause. Credits roll over audio of Heart performing a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover” taped at an earlier live date. The show was produced and directed by the late Michael J. Cotsones.
Though circulated among collectors and online video sites, it was finally released on DVD in 2012 as part of Heart’s Strange Euphoria box set. The show perfectly captures this band in their prime, just as they began their ascent to classic rock stardom. Also, highly recommended!
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