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Wednesday 6 July 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Heart (Review By Paul H)

Heart - Birmingham Symphony Hall

Heart are a curious outfit. One of those bands liked by millions. They appeal to octogenarians and youngsters. Black Metal fans and those who like trashy ScandiEuro pop. Like Fleetwood Mac, they appear to span all generations and genres. Unfortunately they are rare visitors to UK shores, with their last appearances way back in 2004. Before that, it was 1990 when I had been fortunate enough to see the band at the NEC. The opportunity to see the band in such close quarters at the 2200 capacity Symphony Hall was a must do.

Support band FM (8) had their work cut out but played a steady 35 minutes. The band have been around the scene a long time and held themselves well, with nothing to prove. They clearly enjoyed their brief set and a very positive response from the audience was good to see. Steve Overland is the ideal front man for this very British institution, relaxed and with the AOR voice. Long serving members abound in FM, although the reliable Merv Goldsworthy on bass and Pete Jupp on drums win the longest service awards having been with the band since 1985. Highlight of the evening? Has to be That Girl, the FM anthem.

Half an hour later and it was time. Lights out and there the band were. Heart (10) wasted no time in getting the crowd on their feet with opener Wild Child from 1990’s Brigade seguing into old school classic Magic Man. Whilst Nancy Wilson, blond hair flying and in mighty fine shape was content to hand lead guitar duties to long serving Craig Bartock, all eyes (and ears) were on sister Ann who soon proved that THAT voice, the mezzo soprano was still in top shape. Throughout the evening she just got better and better, and by the time the band reached Bad Animals sole representative, the power ballad Alone, the audience was mesmerised. In fact, for large parts of the evening I found myself holding my breath in the sheer joy of being there.

The set list was well paced and balanced, with a range of tracks from across their 40 year career. Bebe Le Strange and Straight On from Bebe Le Strange slowed things down; newish track Beautiful Broken (originally released on some versions of 2012’s Fanatic but now the title of the imminent new release) and I Jump, another newie rocked the place with a harder edge. This allowed both Nancy and Craig to show their chops. Of course, Heart are probably most well known for their calmer stuff and along with Alone we were treated to stunning renditions of These Dreams from 1988’s Heart, Sweet Darlin’ from Little Queen and the lovely Sand, a song from Ann and Nancy’s side project Lovemongers’ 1997 Whirlygig release, complete with Ann joining Nancy on acoustic guitar.

There have been many versions of Heart and there were a few changes in line up since the band last played in the UK. The reliable Ben Smith on drums has been there since 1995 and Craig Bartock since 2004. Alongside them were bassist Dan Rothchild, who joined in 2012 and the latest addition keyboard player and purveyor of fine hats Chris Joyner. The band were excellent, note perfect.

We were also treated to a couple of songs where Nancy took lead vocal. However, the moment I had wanted to see finally arrived when Nancy took her acoustic guitar to the max for the intro of Crazy On You from Dreamboat Annie which had everyone rocking in the aisles. Obviously it was then time for that riff and Barracuda. What a song, It never fails to get me going and the place was rocking hard by the time it brought the main set to an end.

Whilst the purist in me always finds cover versions a little bit of a let down, the affinity that Heart have with Led Zeppelin meant that three Zep songs to conclude the evening was not at all disappointing. Immigrant Song fed straight into a magnificent No Quarter which held the audience captivated before Misty Mountain Hop rounded a magnificent evening off. There are times when it is just enough to say I was there. This was one of those evenings.

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