Heart at the Bowl
Paul Wellman

It was a great short Heart concert embedded in a very uneven Led Zeppelin tribute. Unfortunately, the problems started immediately with Jason Bonham (son of late Zeppelin drummer John) opening with “Rock and Roll,” the last song Robert Plant played at the bowl last June, making everything feel bass-ackwards. Besides, Bonham’s band, even with its DNA privileges, is still a tribute band, with all the mental disharmonies accompanying such ventures. Note-perfect reproductions of songs ranging from “What Is and What Should Never Be” to “Whole Lotta Love” were performed with every Plant yelp and quaver in place, but open your eyes, and it’s four shlubby-looking guys posturing. Tribute bands belong in bars, though Bonham’s version of the rare “Nobody’s Fault but My Own” was nicely felt and unexpected.

Then the Sisters Wilson of Heart arrived and sonically shook the shack. Opening with “Barracuda,” that scudding hard rocker that cemented the band’s reputation after “Magic Man” established it, the sisters and their band blazed lushly through the hits, each reminding you how they were not just a novelty grrl proto-metal act (the hard-rock voice sprang from them and Plant). The hits were all there: “Even It Up,” “Dog and Butterfly,” and even into the 1980s with “These Dreams.” The stage presence was still rocker sexy, too, and they ended their too-brief set with a long acoustic intro leading to a pounding rendition of “Crazy on You.”

But they retook the stage with nostalgia, with an encore mandolin and guitar duo of Zep’s “The Battle of Evermore,” which turned out to be the most exquisite moment of the evening as it blossomed from folksy to psychedelic. What followed was a crescendo from “The Immigrant Song” to “Kashmir,” a song so perfectly executed it seemed to sum up this whole summer of live music. And then they ruined it. Instead of ending with that miracle, they took us to church with a fatuous rendition of “Stairway to Heaven,” the worst of the best, replete with an African-American choir. It was a false end to two true bands’ legacies: full of heart but empty-headed.


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