Heart and Led Zeppelin almost go hand-in-hand during discussions about 1970s arena rock, so it’s fitting that Heart continues to keep the Led Zep fires burning.
Sunday night at the MTS Centre, Ann and Nancy Wilson, the sisterly duo behind Heart, joined up with Jason Bonham, the son of Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, whose death in 1980 led to the split-up of the band.
The Heart-Bonham combo picked up steam after they appeared together during the Kennedy Center Honors concert in December 2012 as part of the organization’s tribute to Led Zeppelin. While rumours always swirl that Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones will reunite for a tour, the closest Led Zep fans will get to hear those 1970s arena rock anthems again is from the Wilson sisters and Bonham.
The combo brought a powerful take of some of Led Zeppelin’s biggest songs, like the mandolin-influenced The Battle of Evermore, the opening song of the set, the drum fiesta Four Sticks and a creepy No Quarter.
There are few singers around today who would, or should attempt to match the vocal histrionics of a young Plant, but Ann Wilson bravely gave it a go Sunday. She did pretty well on shriek fests like the Immigrant Song and Kashmir, but it would be hard to imagine a 21st-century Plant take those on these days.
The band, led by Nancy Wilson on guitar, provided the requisite rumble that made Led Zeppelin a legend. Their awesome version of Kashmir, an early set highlight certainly wound up the crowd and its famous riff was faithful to the original.
Stairway to Heaven, which Bonham and the Wilsons performed at the Kennedy Center, was expected to be played to massive cheers and flicked lighters after press time.
Prior to the elegies to Zeppelin, Heart came out with a hit-laden 75-minute set that showed their songs are no slouches in the arena-rock department either.
They kicked it off with what is arguably their trademark song, a pitch-perfect Barracuda, and singer Ann proved she’s still got the vocal chops other singers from the 1970s dreamed they had then and their accountants wish they had now.
It was the first of a string of six Heart classics that led to their being inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Fans roared their approval when they heard Trudeau-era classics Heartless, What About Love?, Dreamboat Annie, Little Queen and Even It Up.
The Wilsons, backed by a four-piece band, mellowed out a bit with 1985’s These Dreams, with Nancy at the microphone, and then Ann took over with a rousing rendition of Alone. The song was a sappy power ballad when it went to No. 1 in 1987, but a quarter-century later, it was more power than ballad, with Ann turning it into another showcase for her vocal prowess.
Magic Man and Crazy On You, again note-for-note from the 45s that boomers have in their treasured record collections, finished the opening set.
While many bands from the 1970s have lumbered into irrelevancy, it’s a credit to the Wilsons that Heart, no doubt older, but no doubt wiser, continues to matter.