Review: Heart brought raunchy and raw rock to Budweiser Stage

Ann and Nancy Wilson's Love Alive tour hit Toronto with Sheryl Crow in the opening slot


HEART with SHERYL CROW at Budweiser Stage, Sunday, July 14. Rating: NNNN


Joy is hearing Ann Wilson’s voice reach the crazy heights that catapulted her into vocal rock royalty. You need a gigantic, open-air venue like Budweiser Stage to hold that legendary voice, as well as the fierce guitar playing of her sister Nancy Wilson. 

Officially cemented in 1972 when Ann joined the already created band Heart – her baby sister Nancy joined shortly after – the pair are two of the most revered women in rock and roll history. Their Love Alive tour (a reference to their 1977 track of the same name) saw them reuniting after an acrimonious three-year breakup.

You had to get to Budweiser Stage early to see first opener Elle King and not get caught in the glacially moving hoards. But the sound of Sheryl Crow’s band revving up to play her 1996 hit A Change Would Do You Good sent people racing to their seats, filling out the venue in mere seconds. 

“Without the Wilson Sisters I probably wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing,” Crow said in a quick acknowledgment at the start of her hour-long set. 

Going “way back 25 years,” to 1994’s All I Wanna Do and 98’s My Favorite Mistake, the hits kept coming one after another. And in what is now a tradition, Crow used 1993’s Leaving Las Vegas as an opportunity to mention being fed up with Washington D.C. and wanting to move to Canada – in that sweet-but-naive complement typical of Americans who don’t understand that Canada has its own Donald Trump fans. 

Keeping the audience on their feet for much of the show, Crow sounded as good as she does in the studio and her dancing lit up the stage. There should also be a drinking game created for every time her band switches out guitars. 

Crow’s classics have stood the test of time, but it’s not obvious that the tracks off her upcoming album will prove to be as timeless. Taking a light country turn with new single Prove You Wrong (featuring Stevie Nicks, who was not in attendance) and Still The Good Old Days (featuring Joe Walsh, also not in attendance), a playful song celebrating middle age, it was hard not to wonder if the new material, with paint-by-numbers rhyming lyrics like “Well you might be crazy/I might be lazy/But I like it that way,” will age as well as Strong Enough and the many older songs that she thankfully returned to toward the end of her set. 

While Crow took the audience back 25 years, Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the Wilson Sisters took us back to the 70s and then forward again.  

Appearing onstage to the hard rock classic Rockin’ Heaven Down, which quickly veered into their famously lusty Magic Man, Ann Wilson sang with a thunderous voice that could’ve out-roared Indycar, which had happened throughout the weekend nearby. Over four decades her voice’s raunchy, raw force remains undiminished and chill-inducing. Guitarist and some-time vocalist Nancy’s presence was equally felt as she pounded on her guitar and swung her mass of blond, wavy hair around like a flag. 

The sisters recently overcame a family dispute that saw them temporarily dismantle the band. In 2017 Ann’s husband Dean Wetter was arrested for assaulting Nancy’s teenage sons. During the show, Ann took great pains to acknowledge her sister at every turn. “Me and my sister are together again,” she said, clearly happy to be reunited. 

“Tonight, we’re going to go back to the beginning, all the way through the middle and end up who knows where,” she said to the beat of I Heard It Through the Grapevine. After smoothly morphing the Motown classic into their own 1978 hit Straight On, the rest of the night felt like a free wheelin’ jam session. 

During a rendition of the tour’s namesake song Love Alive, Ann demurely played the flute before unleashing ruckus vocals that created a stunning contrast. The slow and pensive Dog & Butterfly was one of the few times where crowd energy dimmed, but it was quick to return when tracks These Dreams, the slow-burner What About Love and Crazy On You sent the audience into a frenzy. 

An encore included Barracuda and when their 90-minute set ended, the pair left the stage looking like they had barely broken a sweat.

@chakavgrier

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