BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Since rising like a phoenix from the club scene of Seattle in the mid-70’s, Ann Wilson and her younger sister Nancy have sold close to 40 million albums worldwide on a journey that has brought them entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But on Friday night, Ann’s quest for creative expansion lead her to the UC Theatre in Berkeley on her first ever extended solo tour.
Performing on just the second night of a brief 20-city tour, the 66 year-old Wilson’s legendary vocals have fronted some of classic rock and pop music’s most recognizable, and best selling songs for two generations of fans. Enjoying a temporary break from Heart, Wilson is performing an epic combination of iconic rock covers, combined with recently released solo material along with reworked versions of a handful of Heart’s biggest hits.
Taking the stage promptly at 8 PM sharp as advertised, Wilson appeared in an attractive red dress in support of this past Wednesday’s International Women’s Day along with black leggings and a black tuxedo jacket. With the small stage adorned with candles and flowers, it provided a significant contrast to the many massive stadium and arena shows that Heart had played over the years.
Setting the tone for the evening, Wilson opened with a powerful take of The Who’s “The Real Me”, the first of three cuts she would perform by the English band. Next up was “Barracuda”, quickly eliminating any ideas that this evening was going to be devoid of any Heart songs.
Establishing a pattern that would last through most of the evening of alternating covers with her own material, Wilson next discharged a riveting take of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put A Spell On You” before performing 1985’s “What About Love” from the self-titled album that returned Heart to prominence after a brief lull and ultimately went on to become their bestselling release with over 5 million sales in the US alone. “Tall, Dark Handsome Stranger” from 1990’s “Brigade” was next, followed by “Fool No More” and “Anguish” the first two of the six cuts from her pair of recently released “Ann Wilson Thing” cover EP’s.
Having a greater ability to communicate with the crowd in a more intimate setting, Wilson explained how “Anguish”, an intense and screeching ditty about the ashes of desire, was written in response to a brief, but torturous separation during an intense love affair as a result of a Heart tour halfway around the world to New Zealand. Next up, a delicious version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” led to a brief intermission.
An All-Star quartet of covers, Yes “I’ve Seen All Good People”, The Black Crowes “She Talks To Angels”, Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” and The Animals “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place” followed before Wilson belted out an uplifting version of “Alone” from Heart’s 1987 “Bad Animals”. Reaching into the fertile songbook of Daltrey and Townshend again, Wilson had many in the crowd singing along as she nailed both “Love, Reign O’er Me” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” with her powerhouse vocals. The slow intro of a reworked “Crazy On You” that crescendoed at another level signaled the end of her main set.
Considering the Wilson sisters lifelong love affair with the music of Led Zeppelin, even having toured with Jason Bonham on drums just a few years ago, it was surprising that no Zeppelin tunes were included in this format. But a very memorable evening had already been assured and not a soul was complaining. Wilson returned with Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” before taking a final brief encore.
Giving a well-deserved shout out to Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood for continuing the fight against political stupidity, Wilson serenaded the appreciative crowd with “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” before concluding the festivities with the sultry “Danger Zone” by Ray Charles, another song she had recorded for the first of her EP’s.
Ann Wilson’s solo tour continues Sunday night at The Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.