Monday, 4 July 2016

Heart - Birmingham Review

American rock legends Heart do not seem to make it over to the UK very often. Prior to this short UK tour, it had been over 10 years since the Wilson sisters made it over to these shores, so the announcement of this run of UK shows was met with excitement when it was announced towards the back end of last year. I have been a casual fan of the band for a few years now, but my appreciation for their music is always growing. Knowing the band's recent track record for UK shows, I jumped at the chance to see the band. The show in Birmingham's Symphony Hall was the most convenient for my schedule. Despite seeing many shows in Birmingham over the years, this was my first visit to the Symphony Hall. Looking at the posters up around the venue, this does not look like the sort of place that many rock bands play. That being said, the venue was excellent. I was sat on the first tier of raised seats, and the view of the stage I had was great. The sound was also strong throughout, with a good balance of instruments for both Heart and the support band FM. The venue is situated in a nice part of the city, next door to the posh new library, and the area is set to see plenty more regeneration over the coming years. Bigger rock bands should consider this venue more often, as the excellent sound and views throughout make for a hugely enjoyable gig.

Opening the show was FM, a band who I had seen a handful of times previously and have become quite a fan of over the past couple of years after seeing them supporting Foreigner in Nottingham. When I heard they had been added to Heart's tour, I was very pleased as I will always take any opportunity I can to see the British AOR band. They were limited to only 35 minutes on stage, but they made it count with seven melodic rock songs that showcased the band at their best. Opening with the riff-based rock of Digging up the Dirt, from last year's Heroes and Villains, was a good move. Jim Kirkpatrick (guitar/vocals) owned the song with heavy riffing, while Steve Overland (vocals/guitar) belted out the chorus and harmonised well with the band. The 1980s anthem I Belong to the Night was the highlight of the set for me, with Jem Davis' (keyboards/harmonica/vocals) snyth leads filling the growing venue. Another newer number, Life is a Highway, seemed to really get the crowd going, but it was the 1980s hit single That Girl that saw the biggest cheer during FM's set. There seemed to be a few FM fans in attendance, and I am sure that a few that were not already familiar with the band will have come away fans. The large, sustained cheering after the bluesy set closer Burning My Heart Down showed that FM had done a good job of warming up the crowd for Heart. I will be seeing the band in Nottingham in October to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album Indiscreet, and I am looking forward to it already! The setlist was:

Digging up the Dirt
I Belong to the Night
Life is a Highway
Let Love be the Leader
That Girl
Bad Luck
Burning My Heart Down

Since releasing their first album in 1976, Heart have been popular. From their folky/hard rock output in the 1970s, to their AOR, cover-heavy 1980s work, to their grittier modern sound, Heart have always had plenty of fans worldwide. This set in Birmingham covered all eras of the band's sound, and included all of their well-known hits plus some deeper cuts. They opened with their version of Romeo's Daughter's Wild Child (ironically, Romeo's Daughter often tour with FM!) which is driven by a jagged guitar riff from both Nancy Wilson (vocals/guitar/mandolin) and Craig Bartock (guitar/keyboards/vocals), as Ann Wilson (vocals/guitar) belts out the lyrics with her superb, ageless voice. Early on, the hits came thick and fast. Magic Man really rocked, with an extended instrumental section that was Bartock and Craig Joyner (keyboards) trading leads with ease. The first real singalong came with the timeless power ballad What About Love. The title track of the band's upcoming album Beautiful Broken was the heaviest moment of the night, and saw Ann Wilson harmonising well with Dan Rothchild (bass guitar/keyboards/vocals) during the song's strong verses. The acoustic Sand, from the Wilson sister's old side-project The Lovemongers, was another early highlight before Nancy sung a couple including the gorgeous These Dreams. The smash-hit ballad Alone, done acoustically as it seems is the norm for Heart now, had plenty of the crowd singing along, before the band returned to rock once again with Straight On, one of my favourite Heart songs. A couple more new numbers were also featured in the latter part of the set. Two is song written by R&B singer Ne-Yo which Heart have 'claimed' (as Nancy Wilson said on stage), and the hard rocking original I Jump both stood out, and raise excitement for the band's new album which is due out at the end of the week. Two of the band's biggest songs from the 1970s brought the set to an end. Nancy Wilson set up Crazy on You with an extended guitar intro, before the band came in and blew the roof off the Symphony Hall. Barracuda was the follow-up, and the snarling guitar riff and screechy vocals was the perfect way to end the show. That was not the end however, and Heart came back on stage for three Led Zeppelin covers. Heart have been covering Led Zeppelin since the beginning, and Ann Wilson's voice is perfectly suited to the material. The hard rocking Immigrant Song was over before you knew it, but the real highlight was the sprawling No Quarter with beautiful vocals from Ann Wilson and a stunning guitar solo from Bartock. The evening came to an end with Misty Mountain Hop, with Joyner's organ riff and Ben Smith's (drums/percussion) perfect groove locking in together. The setlist was:

Wild Child [Romeo's Daughter cover]
Magic Man
What About Love [Toronto cover]
Beautiful Broken
Bebe le Strange
Sand [The Lovemongers cover]
These Dreams
Two [Ne-Yo cover]
Alone [I-Ten cover]
Straight On
Sweet Darlin'
Kick it Out
I Jump
Crazy on You
Immigrant Song [Led Zeppelin cover]
No Quarter [Led Zeppelin cover]
Misty Mountain Hop [Led Zeppelin cover]

Overall, this was a great show from a legendary American rock band on a rare trip over to the UK. While I have liked Heart for some time now, I am more of a fan now than I was before I went to this show. I shall have to complete my Heart CD collection and familiarise myself with more of the band's deeper cuts.

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