Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have reinvented themselves plenty over the past 35 years —bar-playing acoustic hippies to rock ‘n’ roll chicks to makeup and glitter girls of the 80s — and at their show at Mile One Centre Friday night, they proved they have no intention of giving up any time soon.
Mile One was Heart’s first stop on the Canadian leg of their tour in support of “Red Velvet Car,” their first album since 2004’s “Jupiter’s Darling.” The album debuted at No. 10 on the charts the first week of its release.
While the Mile One show wasn’t a sellout, there weren’t many empty seats, and it was a raucous crowd that was ready to rock, not content to stay sitting for very long. I didn’t see a single person under the age of 25, and only a handful under 30.
After an hour-long set by ginger-haired Cape Breton solo rocker Carmen Townsend — who was hand-picked to open the Canadian shows by Ann and Nancy — and a 20-minute intermission, the house lights dimmed, and incense burned on a corner of the stage. While I was expecting to hear the blazing opening riffs of “Crazy on You” or “Barracuda,” the show kicked off with spotlights on the band’s drummer and percussionist, who started the opening beats to “Cook With Fire,” from the “Dog and Butterfly” record. Out walked Nancy, joining in on the guitar, and then Ann, wearing sequined boots, a black dress and a black jacket with an Elvis-style sequined peace sign on the back, playing the flute.
“We have been welcomed like we’ve never been welcomed before. We’ve been Screeched in, kissed the fish, and we’re here to tell,” Ann told the crowd, before launching into “Straight On,” and then “What About Love.”
Switching between acoustic and electric guitars, 56-year-old Nancy was the most energetic of the sisters, literally running around in circles during riffs and doing high jumps. Ann, 60, sang with a voice that hasn’t changed since “Dreamboat Annie,” Heart’s first album, was released in the mid-1970s, and was every bit as strong on stage as on CD.
Some softer songs from “Red Velvet Car” saw Nancy bring out the harpsichord, while the rowdy “WTF” had the audience screaming.
The group’s performances of “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda” as well as a medley of “Even it Up” and The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” were well-appreciated by the crowd, but it was “Alone” that stole the show: while the stage was bathed in a blue light, and accompanied only by a piano and Nancy on acoustic guitar and harmonies, Ann performed an amazing stripped-down, slowed-down, haunting rendition of the song that earned a standing ovation from the crowd.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t forget any of the words to that one, because you knew them all,” Ann told the audience.
Heart returned to the stage for two encores, including a version of Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Never Should Be,” which were well-done, but rather anti-climactic after the exciting previous hour and a half, and left the audience calling out to hear “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You.” Interestingly, Ann has spoken in the past about the band’s dislike for the song, which was written by Mutt Lange, saying they had “sworn off it because it kind of stood for everything (they) wanted to get away from.”
All told, any music fan who missed Friday night’s show missed out: like Ann and Nancy, it was strong, energetic, fun, and absolutely rockin’.