Thursday, April 9, 2015

Heart - US Cellular Center - March 21st, 2015

Take a look back the music of your youth for a moment.  Be honest with yourself and reflect back on the bands that have such power behind them that you can remember their songs and specific moments in your life.  Regardless of your age, regardless of your musical taste, regardless of the sweater you wore in that horrific school picture you wore in sixth grade, its possible.  Do you remember that song?

Its a relatively simple question and it is probably quite easy to do so if you really, really want to reflect back and the music of my youth is no exception.  My Uncle Jeff was only a few years older than me, six or seven so the music he listened to kind became engrained in my musical tastes.  I reflect back on those tastes quite often for example I remember the very first time I ever hear Black Sabbath, it was with Jeff.  He had this old Chevelle complete with an 8-Track player and as hideous as those things were I still remember "Rat Salad" clicking its way through the song to this day.

I really would like to meet the person that invented the 8-track and ask them what in the name of all things plaid covered were they thinking.  I hated the inevitable stop that befell the song right in the middle of it as it stopped, rewound, then clicked to another track.  That was aggravating to no end and it seriously hurt so many good songs.  It took forever at least it seemed seemed like it back then, and for whatever reason people considered that "technology" to be state-of-the-art.  Seriously the inventor needs to be beaten with a pillow case full of the old 8-track players until he apologizes for that nightmare.

While I remember that technology with "great adoration" I also remember some of the other 8-tracks Jeff had.  I seemingly faced the days of my youth with those bloody 8-tracks clicking through my days riding with him including an Elton John 8-track that still haunts me as I think of a seriously balding Elton John staring at me wearing these bizarre looking glasses but I also remember seeing the seemingly angelic faces of the two young women on the cover of "Dreamboat Annie."

The album cover, rather the 8-track label in this case, was as simplistic as it was brilliant.  Just two faces, in profile in front of a simple white screen, just two faces of two very beautiful women: Ann and Nancy Wilson.  That cover really showed an innocence of the two young women, and it really exemplified their "newness" in mainstream music.  That was the entry of the band "Heart" into the world of rock music but when you think back to the fact that this album was released in 1976 (in America, 1975 in Canada) is mind boggling.

Think of the year 1975 for a moment, it was dotted with legends like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, The Who and Elvis Presley deeply entrenched into music history.  Bands like Talking Heads played their first show at CBGB's, KISS played at a homecoming dance, the Sex Pistols played their first concert and a small four person band signed its first record deal with Sire Records, their name the Ramones.  That's a pretty amazing year if you really think about it and few female performers had any success during that time frame let alone the impact that Heart gave music when that first album was released.  Yes there was Carole King, Joan Baez (in that folk-rock type thing), Melissa Manchester, Barbara Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Carley Simon and Roberta Flack in their own niche but no female rock bands of consequence.

That's a pretty big statement but with the exception of the aforementioned performers and some "disco" performers (who I will NEVER name even if tortured), Heart was really it.  That makes me happy to say that because if you look at the bands I named earlier, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, etc., Heart has paved the way for female acts and performers that would have never succeeded to their extent without them.  Think about that tor a minute, its true.  Look disco died a quick and painful death but rock needed Heart.  The amazing thing about the Seattle rock legends is their impact on music and their music that has held up for FORTY YEARS. Let that sink in for a moment, forty years seemingly billions of acts have tried to make their mark on music but Heart has.

I have seen Heart perform live once before at the "Great Jones County Fair" opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd in Monticello, Iowa and the show was absolutely incredible.  The history of the two bands made the show really one of rock royalty.  The number of albums and their music from both bands lends credence to that description and I doubt that after bands like this are done, so are such lineups.

When the show of "Joan Jett and the Blackhearts" opening for Heart was announced we immediately purchased tickets,  Having been to the venue well over twenty-five years ago made for a little excitement for me at least because it was like going to a venue I had never been to previously (stupid concussions and old age).  The US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is incredible and kudos to those that staff the facility because everyone working there was warm, friendly and helpful.

I made the trek to the US Cellular Center with seven other people and traveling with that many people can be tricky (look at my Motley Crue article as an example) but the group of people I was with are well versed in such events and no real problems or issues befell the trip.  The trip was relatively short in all actuality but it was easy to find, and parking was simple as well.  The area around the arena was full of restaurants and pubs and it really felt like a small town atmosphere with that little sophistication that seems to fall into areas that host music events.  Don’t get me wrong, it was far from pretentious and the size of the US Cellular Center is far from the size of something like the United Center.  The size of the arena is ideal and our seats although a full level above the floor seating but they were great.  It really looked like there were no bad seats for this event, overall I loved the venue.

If I’m being honest I have to tell you that I would have loved the Joan Jett / Heart show if it was held in a horse barn that was still full of horses and their “deposits.”  Heart came out in a nonchalant fashion that is indicative of their music and style.  The Wilson sisters exude this almost flower-child like persona and their music really does have that feel.  Sure the Wilson sisters are from that era (to an extent) but make no bones about it these ladies are rockers.

Rock music, the gentlemen's club of misogynistic alpha males that is well versed in guitar playing legends is not used to guitar playing women in their realm but fortunately Nancy Wilson has changed that.  Wilson is a force.  If I were to describe Nancy Wilson in a word that word would be extraordinary.  She is incredible on stage and I would venture a guess that if you were to listen to her perform a Led Zeppelin song live without any vocals to a live Zeppelin song without vocals, you would struggle to discern which was which.  How can I make that comparison you may ask?  Well…  As an encore, the band performs a Led Zeppelin song or two and it really is that jaw dropping moment when you realize how gifted they really are.  Nancy Wilson should be listed quite deservedly in the Top 10 – 15 guitar players of all time, she is that good.

Vocalists, singers if you will have hardwired into their psyches this need to be noticed, it’s true but Ann Wilson is the epitome of what a “front man” should be.  First of all her voice has never wavered it really is the stuff of legends.  I have seen well over 500 bands and performers in my nearly half a century of existence and I can tell you with some confidence that I have never seen a performer like Ann Wilson.  Yes I have said that there other singers that haven't lost their sound after many years of performing but there is NO ONE that I have seen or heard in that time frame that can compete with Ann Wilson.  What is extraordinary is the fact that she has maintained that quality and precision of her vocal range from the days before that first album until today.  Ann Wilson could be the best pure vocalist I have ever heard in my life.

The band that Heart has assembled is incredible.  The sound that they have really is more to musicians themselves and not just “the sound” of Heart.  I thought the performance of everyone was great, you could hear the individuals within the confines of the band and not just what they were supposed to play and when.  That is the sign of a great band, in and of itself the components make the machine run smoothly, and well established.  As I mentioned earlier I knew going in that Heart likes performing Led Zeppelin music, usually as an encore and despite the fact that I am not a Zeppelin fan, I know that many performers don't like performing their music because of the rabid fans that Zepp has, but this band doesn't back down from that challenge.  I LOVE the version of "Misty Mountain Hop" that Heart does!  Ann Wilson's vocals are insane and the band is so freaking tight it scares me.

What if I were to tell you despite the comment I made earlier, the one about me not being a Zepp fan, that there is indeed a song that I love by the band?  It is quite true and that song is the "Immigrant Song" and as part of the three songs that they performed as part of their encore, the "Immigrant Song" was first.  It was incredible and so was the second song of the encore, "No Quarter" and with some certainty I can tell you that not only did the Wilson's make those songs memorable, the band was spot on.  That encore was almost good enough to make me Zeppelin fans, it was incredible!

When I ventured to the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to see Heart perform I knew I was in for a show like no other.  Not only did I see Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, a new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member perform, I saw Heart, a 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member (they should have been in MUCH earlier and shame on the RnRHOF for not doing so).  Ann and Nancy Wilson are one of the elite bands in the history of rock music.  Heart has traveled the road of music from the late formation of rock in the '60's, through disco, the '80's and the birth of "hair metal" through whatever in the hell the last twenty years of music have been.  The band Heart and the Wilson sisters are not survivors, they transcend that moniker, they are the backbone of music.

Heart is a rock and roll legend.  This is a band that has survived turmoil, strife, changes of music tastes, but they are a band with fans that started following them from their earliest days to the newest fans who have heard their parents (I'm not saying grandparents, okay I just did) listen to their music and they have become fans too.  It's not too often you will hear a five year old say that they are "Seals and Crofts" fans but I know I saw more than just a few children of that age if not younger, at that very show. Heart is what rock and roll is all about, they play the music that they want and they love that is the reason they have lasted this long, their fans are proof of that.  Absolutely amazing show, I will see the band again without question!

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