A couple of months ago, it was revealed that, due to a rift between sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, Heart is currently on hiatus. The band has certainly been through its ups and downs over the years and even took a seven-year break in the late ’90s and early 2000s but came back strong when they went back on the road in 2002. Alive In Seattle was recorded in their hometown on the last night of that tour, and not only is it great to see the Wilsons in top form, but it’s also a nice reminder of them in happier times.
From the start, it’s evident this is a real homecoming show: Recorded at Seattle’s much-loved Paramount Theatre (fellow Seattle bands Nirvana and Soundgarden also filmed concert videos there), there’s a nicely intimate feel throughout with the band performing on a no-frills stage decorated with just some mood-enhancing lava lamps.
Both Ann and Nancy emerge, beautiful as usual, sporting a cool, hippie-chic look with embroidered tunics and jeans. It’s a far cry from their best remembered big-haired ’80s looks — when the band enjoyed some of their biggest hits — but it feels like they’re channeling their ’70s roots when they rocked peasant dresses and big riffs and gave the Led Zep boys a run for their money.
The first song, “Crazy on You,” seems to reaffirm this return to their hard-rock heyday, and at least half of the set is taken from their 1970s albums (bar Magazine, which never seems to get time in the spotlight). Of course, Ann Wilson sounds incredible on any kind of song — she is, without a doubt, one of the best rock vocalists of all time — but there is something spine-tingling when you hear her powerful voice wailing over a rock guitar. This is especially apparent on classics like “Magic Man” and, of course, “Barracuda,” where it’s clear her voice is as spectacular as ever.
In the middle of the set, though, Ann and Nancy are left alone on the stage to perform a few tunes acoustically with Ann even strapping on her own guitar. Not only does it showcase what an amazing and underrated guitarist Nancy is but also reminds us what a special chemistry these two talented sisters have. Let’s hope they work through their problems with each other because, really, they don’t need a band to sound incredible: their guitars and those two voices blended together are magic all on their own.
A case in point has to be the acoustic version of their huge hit “Alone,” one of the few nods to their ’80s platinum-selling, arena-rock success. Stripping back the song makes it all the more poignant and powerful. In this pure form, it becomes the real show-stopper of the set.
Elsewhere, they also offer up four new songs, which actually have never turned up on any studio albums (as yet). “Sister Wild Rose” is a real belter, “Heaven” has a dreamy, power-ballad feel, and “Two Faces Of Eve” is an angry rocker. The best of the new songs, however, is probably “Break the Rock,” which has a singalong chorus that gets the crowd joining in. None of the new songs are quite as good as the classics they’re playing here, but, that said, they stand up well enough next to the older material.
There’s also a number of covers that stop this from becoming an unimaginative greatest hits set, which range from the punky rock of the Sonics’ “Witch” to the soft acoustic telling of Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.”
On top of this, there are not one, but two Led Zeppelin covers. The best is their killer version of “Battle of Evermore” (with Nancy on “old man mandolin”). They’ve been doing this cover for years, and it still gives the original a run for its money. Later, they bring out the riffs on “Black Dog” for the encore.
The final song is “Dreamboat Annie” complete with a charming flute solo courtesy of Ann (apparently, this woman can do it all), bringing things full circle and ending where they started: back at their first album with the title track.
It’s a hugely enjoyable show, nicely filmed, with the band in fine, energetic form (including Mike Inez from fellow Seattle rockers Alice in Chains on bass) and filled with their best-loved tracks and great covers. The Wilson sisters are currently out doing separate projects, which are always worth checking out, but together they are undeniable. Let’s all cross our fingers that Heart isn’t done yet.
Heart: Alive in Seattle is out now. Get your copy via Amazon.