I called Howard last Monday night, 9/13/04. I waited until he finished what he had to say (thankfully he didn’t take long) and I got to say the thing I called him to say.
ME: Well, today I am a Bad Ass Bitch.
HOWARD: Really? Why is that?
ME: On my way home from work tonight I stopped at Symphony Space and bought five tickets for Diamanda on October 4th.
HOWARD: Cool, who all is going?
ME: Diane, who went to her show with me last year, and Karen Miller, who’s never seen her before, and another couple of friends of ours. But even more exciting, I stopped by the Beacon Theater and got a ticket for Heart.
HOWARD: Oh, I’m sorry.
And then he proceeded to tell me that they’re in a sorry place in their career, frantically promoting their new album, when no one but die-hard Heart fans even care about their new album. But he thought that if I really wanted to see them, and had never seen them before, then I probably would enjoy it.
We had a little disagreement about them not being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yet. They use a 25-year timeframe, so you had to have recorded your first album 25 years ago to be eligible - - and Heart’s first album (*Dreamboat Annie*) came out in ’76 (the same glorious year as “Afternoon delight” and “Loving you”). I told Howard that the inductees for this year included Jackson Browne (“If that guy hits Daryll Hannah one more time, I’m gonna kick his puny ass.”), ZZ Top (“No, Christopher, they’re the real deal - - they had a whole blues career before they had that resurgence in the 80s. Jimi Hendrix said Billy Gibbons is the best guitarist in the country. He has Jimi’s pink strap.”), and George Harrison (“It took them this long to induct him? Heart has a few more years to wait.”) The B-52s aren’t in the R&RHoF either, though their first album only came out in 1979, so maybe they’ll get in next year.
The show was at the Beacon Theater, which looks like an old movie palace, very cute and tacky in a Cecil B. DeMille kind of way. It wasn’t sold out, but it seemed like a lot of people. It’s a nice sized theater, I would guess between 500 to 800 seats. I would guess it was about ¾ women and ¼ men, with a lot of lesbians, large women, and tie dye - - and yes, a few large lesbians wearing tie dye. I had definitely never seen so many over size 16 women in one place in New York before, and I loved it. The men were all dorks. I was a dork, wearing an orange plaid shirt and stone-colored Dockers. I AM a dork.
I heard two women arguing about what T-shirt they were going to buy:
ONE: I don’t want the black one, we already have too many black T-shirts.
TWO: Yeah, well I don’t like the white one, ‘cause it’s got the guys on it, and I don’t fuckin’ care about the guys.
The opening act was an Australian singer/guitarist/songwriter named Ann McHugh. She’s good, and was the perfect person to open for Heart. I’d say she’s as good as anyone on the charts these days, but I don’t have any idea who’s on the charts these days. She did about five songs, mostly driven ballads with a couple of grungy (is that how you spell that word?) things thrown in. Her set was like a Handel arias set at the beginning of a voice recital - - a good way for the audience to warm up without asking too much of them. Her second song had a weird moment - - halfway through the second verse she stopped singing words and sang “Nah nah nah” until she got to the chorus. I wasn’t really paying attention to the words, so I can’t be 100% sure, but this Nah nah nah tangent didn’t make much sense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for some Nah nah nahs when they’re part of a song (what’s that song from the 80s with all the Nah nah nahs at the end? [See PS below]), but in this case I think she forgot the words.
The drummer and bass player from Heart joined her for her last song, and I am so glad I saw the movie *Metallica: Some Kind of Monster* before I went to this concert, because it gave me more insight into a rock band. It’s an amazing movie, you definitely need to see it, if you haven’t already - - it might make my Top Five for the year. Anyway, it gave me a real appreciation of how strong and hard-working a good rock drummer has to be. This guy was impressive, he really banged the shit out of those drums, and didn’t ever seem to let up. I could never really hear the bass player, but he had a very particular look: stringy, long black hair, black T-shirt, black suede jacket, and black cowboy hat. He was gaunt. Karen Miller recently introduced me to the word “wraith” (she used it to describe John Tavener), and it would apply to this bass player. He looked like he just stepped out of *House of 1,000 Corpses* (which has a sequel coming out this year, *The Devil’s Rejects* - - I’m terribly conflicted about seeing it).
Two last observations about the opening act: first, the lights were odd. There was a single spotlight on Ann McHugh for the first four songs, which faded a bit when a roadie came onstage to hand her a different guitar. I thought that was a nice touch, fading the light between songs. But then for her last song, with the drummer and bass player added, they did a sort of thrown-together light show which wasn’t at all satisfying. It started off looking very promising, with a seafoam and sapphire combination, followed by sulfur and sapphire, followed by gold, ruby red, and sapphire. Sounds cool, right? But it was those same combinations over and over again, building up to the end of the song when they switched on the downbeat of every damn measure. It was at once too stimulating and not stimulating enough.
And second, I couldn’t understand why they draped fabric over the set-up for Heart while she was playing. For one thing, they had to take the drop off the drums at the end of her set anyway, and more importantly, they weren’t exactly covering anything exciting. It’s not like the Cher show, where they had an actual set. Speaking of Cher, seeing Heart made me realize I had never seen a real rock show. The bands I’ve seen are Eurythmics (1986, Alpine Valley, East Troy, WI), U2 (Zoo TV tour, 1992, Camp Randall, Madison, WI), and Cher (2000, Kohl Center, Madison, WI). Eurythmics and U2 aren’t rock bands in the same way as Heart - - they’re too intellectual, too refined. And Cher, nowadays at least, is a genre unto herself.
The house lights went up to mark the transition from Ann McHugh to Heart. They went down partway about ten minutes before they started, and the audience screamed. They went all the way down, and they screamed again. Then Ann and Nancy Wilson walked onstage and the audience went WILD. They started with a song for just the two of them, singing and playing acoustic guitar. It was a warm, welcoming way to open the concert, and not at all incongruous with their fiercer songs.
I have to confess that I didn’t know which was Ann and which was Nancy, so in my notes I referred to them as “Roseanne” (since Ann, clearly, will be played by Roseanne in the movie of her life) and “Other” (Nancy, for the record, will be played by Susan Sarandon). Ann is the lead singer, and I was amazed to hear that her voice sounds as good as it did in the 70s, and they’re still doing all their songs in the original keys. This is incredible. Three of their best-known songs, “Crazy on you”, “Magic man”, and “Baracuda”, are all potentially voice-wreckers, and she’s been singing them on the road for nearly thirty years. She’s probably sung those three songs in concert about 500 times each. It makes me wonder if she, like a Wagnerian singer, has a different build to her voice than other singers. She has the advantage of being amplified, but she still sounds like she’s using what Leontyne Price refers to as her “vocal capital”, not her “vocal interest”. Her voice is gorgeous, thrilling, and so distinctive. I’ve put her on my list of the greatest singers I’ve heard (Diamanda Galas is the undisputed number one on that list - - the others, in alpha order, are: Cesaria Evora, Ben Heppner, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Cyndi Lauper, Karita Mattila, Drew Minter, Leontyne Price, Dawn Upshaw, and Deborah Voigt).
She’s largish - - I wouldn’t describe her as fat, but she’s getting there. Her hair is cut in a long shag, down to the middle back, and it’s black and shiny as an onyx. She wore a black scalloped chiffon blouse with silver sequined insets at the neck, cuffs, and asymmetrical hem. She wore scummy black jeans, white boots with black spots, and on closer viewing (with the high-tech opera glasses I got when my question was used on the Metropolitan Opera Quiz), turquoise decal eye shadow. I believe I’ve invented a cosmetic term - - her eye shadow was so thickly applied that it gave the appearance of being a decal.
Nancy Wilson is the other half of Heart, she’s Ann’s sister. Howard reminded me that she’s married to Cameron Crowe, and has written songs and/or scoring for his films *Say Anything*, *Jerry Maguire*, *Almost Famous*, *Vanilla Sky*, and his upcoming *Elizabethtown* (starring Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Alec Baldwin, and her Doppelganger, Susan Sarandon). She’s primarily a guitarist, but also sings backup vocals. She sang lead vocals on just one song, when Ann was back by the drums drinking something out of an airline-sized tiny bottle (see how handy those opera glasses are). Nancy is slim, and though I don’t want to think her slimness contributes to her sexiness, she is impossibly sexy, definitely the sexiest woman I’ve seen in person. I think a person’s sexiness goes up exponentially when they play electric guitar - - to quote Eddie Van Halen on the subject, “I tried singing, I tried bass, I tried drums, but once I started playing guitar, I got all the pussy I needed.” She wasn’t overly animated in her playing, but she did the occasional scissor jump, which was sexy as hell. I asked Howard about the scissor jump, and he knew exactly what I was talking about, but hadn’t heard it called that before. He hadn’t heard it called anything before. He said Pete Townsend popularized the scissor jump, as well as the windmill (Nancy didn’t do the windmill).
Nancy has reddish brown hair with blonde streaks and clumps. It may have been crimped, I couldn’t quite tell. She wore a bronze glittery blouse with a coarse texture, scummy blue jeans, and I couldn’t quite see her shoes, but I think she may have been wearing sandals. If they were sandals, I hope they had an ankle strap, because those scissor jumps could be perilous without one.
They did about one third new songs and two thirds old songs. I suppose they have to do some new songs, and some of them were OK, and some of the crowd loved them - - though I don’t know about those people. Some critic years ago said that Sarah Bernhardt could bring down the house reciting the alphabet - - I think some members of Heart’s audience would scream their heads off even if they did a Carpenters medley. One more note of interest about the audience - - about twenty minutes into Heart’s set I thought I smelled marijuana. It was faint, so I thought I might just be imagining it. But a half hour later there was NO mistaking it. I asked Howard about this last night:
ME: I could understand it at Alpine Valley, but that’s an outdoor venue.
HOWARD: It doesn’t matter!
ME: You mean people really do go to rock concerts, indoor rock concerts, and smoke pot?
HOWARD: Yeah! They don’t care! And especially for a band from the 70s. [imitating the voice of a middle-aged suburban woman] “Hey, we’re going to Heart, we should find somebody to sell us some pot. You know anybody? I should ask my son, I bet he could score us a joint.”
They did “Straight on”, which I knew, but didn’t know was one of their songs. Ann stamped one foot on the floor on the offbeat in the chorus, which was a cool effect. Maybe it was during this song that the weird guy went up on the stage. Out of nowhere, this tall, bald, flabby white guy climbed onto the stage He was wearing jeans and no shirt. He just stood there, looking at Ann. Ann went on singing, keeping just one eye on him. He wasn’t there three seconds and suddenly five guys appeared from backstage, grabbed him, and escorted to offstage left.
They did “Alone”, that great power ballad from the 80s (“How will I get you alone?”), and they did a really lovely gentle arrangement of it, with no bass or drums, just Ann and Nancy and their hip chick keyboards player (she also sang harmony vocals). That was a treat. And they did “Dog and butterfly”, such a pretty song.
And then, in the midst of some forgettable song from their new album, the weird guy climbed back up on the stage! This time the roadies didn’t take him offstage, somehow they got him back to the floor. Ann and Nancy had a little repartee about him after that song:
ANN: The first time he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and the second time he was wearing kinda less. I’m scared that he’ll come up here again.
NANCY: I think he thinks he’s the Magic Man.
Of course the crowd screamed at the mention of those words, and not too much later, Ann said, “Now we’re gonna go right back to the beginning”, and they did “Magic man” and “Crazy on you”. All the instrumental breaks in both songs were done note for note faithful to the original recordings, which I thought was interesting. There’s a longish instrumental break before the last chorus in “Magic man”, and it’s capped off by some high vocals during the keyboard solo. I always assumed that Ann and Nancy brought in some girls to sing that, and was shocked to hear the two of them sing it in the concert. It’s a long legato line, and they sounded great.
“Crazy on you” starts with a long acoustic guitar solo, played by Nancy. She started it and everyone cheered. She drew it out longer than on the original recording, and drew out the last few chords as long as she could, she is such a tease. They took the end of the song real slow - - to use another classical metaphor, it was like an accompanied cadenza. The guitars, keyboards, and drums would play a downbeat and Ann would sing, “I go crazy on you” - - they’d play another downbeat and Ann would sing, “Cray-ay-ay-ay-ayzy on YOU”, doing all kinds of exciting things on that word “crazy”.
That may have been their last song before the encore set. They left the stage, we cheered for a while. I think there may have been (like in classical recitals), a teaser bow, where they come out, bow, and leave the stage, with every intention of coming back for an encore. Their first encore was “Baracuda”, just as Howard had predicted. And they did the most brilliant thing - - they didn’t take one tiny bit of pause after they finished “Baracuda” and Ann launched into this Led Zeppelin classic. I wish I knew the title. Howard thought it was “Rock and roll”, but that’s the song that goes “Been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.” The song they did is the song where the singer sings a line a cappella and the instruments come in and play a bad ass riff in unison. The singer sings another line a cappella, then another riff, etc., and the end goes, “Oh yeah, oh yeah, uh, uh, uh.” I KNOW you know this song. If you want to hear me sing it, give me a call. Ann kicked major ass on this song, she sang the shit out of it. It was a great choice, because she really does sound just like Robert Plant! And they capped the concert off with another Led Zep song, and again I don’t know the title. I’d explain it, but the explanation would be even more involved and vague than the one above. [See PS below]
I left and bought a knockoff Heart T-shirt on my way out. The official Heart T-shirts were being sold at the theater for $36, and the knockoffs on the street were only $5. It’s nice and cheesy, and it doesn’t have the guys on it (‘cause you know I don’t fuckin’ care about the guys).
Howard and I talked about the concert last night, and he was pleased to hear that I had such a good time. He went to many, MANY rock concerts when he was in high school (he must have seen Heart back then) and was tickled to hear my take on the whole experience. He was also surprised to hear that they sound as good as they do.
For some reason, I had “More than a feeling” by Boston in my head yesterday, which led us to a discussion of Heart versus Boston. According to Howard, Heart has done about 12 or 15 albums, and Boston has done 3. In the space of Heart having done 8 albums, Boston did 2. I just checked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website (rockhall.com) and am glad to see that Boston is NOT in.
PS: Jori Hume, the coolest girl ever to have gone to Delavan-Darien High School, filled me in on the titles of the songs mentioned. The song with all the Nah nah nahs is by Journey, and it’s called (get this) “The Nah Nah Song”. Their first Led Zeppelin encore was “Black Dog”: “Hey-hey mama, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove…”. I’m still trying to figure out what the other Led Zep song is.