Saturday, April 2, 2011

In the name of rock and roll.

As I was scampering around this week telling anyone who would listen that I was going to get to go see Heart on Friday, I generally got one of two reactions. The first was a blank stare. The second was, "They're still touring?" Boy howdy, are they ever!

The concert last night was part of Arizona Bike Week, and it was held out at WestWorld in Scottsdale. Our group consisted of my dad, my uncle, and me (which is grammatically correct). I've only been on a motorcycle twice before (if you don't count using the ones in the garage as chairs), and I've never been above 45 MPH. Yestereve we were out on the highway and everything. It was exciting. I rode on the back of my uncle's La-Z-Boy. Okay, officially it's a 2003 Anniversary Edition Harley Davidson Electra Glide, but seriously, that thing is like a leather recliner with a plane engine and a stereo. It even has armrests.

The parking lot was bikes as far as the eye could see. Literally. It was actually a little overwhelming. While I'm sure it must be smaller than Sturgis, I've never been to the Sturgis bike rally (I did eat at Burger King there once) or any other big gathering of bikers, so this was new for me. I felt so cool riding in there. Bikers really know how to create a sense of community and general bad-to-the-boneness.

It was even cooler leaving than it was pulling in. We didn't leave in packs; we pulled out in droves. I've never been inside one of those columns of motorcycles before, though I've occasionally seen them on the open road. It was most decidedly rad. I can only imagine how all of the lonely looking cars who wound up in the middle of all of us must have felt. The word 'surrounded' comes to mind. Those poor cars, separated from each other by scores of bikes, looked like lost elk that had mistakenly wandered into a wolf convention.

Getting back to the important part of this story, I want you to imagine that little kid on the tricycle from The Incredibles. Can you see his face? His popped gum? Are you envisioning those wide eyes? Good. Now you're beginning to imagine my reaction to seeing my hands-down, absolute most favoritest band ever live in concert: That was totally wicked!

The other band members filed out first, and then Nancy Wilson crossed the stage and donned a gorgeous turquoise guitar. As she struck a few chords I recognized, Ann came out, raised her flute to the microphone, and joined in on the beginning of "Cook With Fire". As she lowered that metal pipe and started to rattle her vocal chords, I couldn't help thinking, Yeah, this is right. This is the only song to start with. I was probably influenced in this by that being the first song on their album Dog and Butterfly. It just feels like a beginning to me.

Throughout the night they played a bunch of my favorites, like "Kick It Out" and "Magic Man" and "Alone" and "What About Love" and "Heartless". The only songs they played that I didn't know were "Desire Walks On" and "Red Velvet Car". The latter is the title song from the album they released last year. That's right, last year. Ann Wilson is 60 years old. Nancy is 57. I hope I'm that hardcore when I'm their age. Nancy was jamming and jumping around like she was 25.

After the first three or four songs, Ann finally spoke to the audience. The first thing she said was something like, "Hey, I guess we should introduce ourselves. We're called Heart." She went on to talk about all of the "beautiful machines" she'd noticed on her way in. "As every good machine knows," she said, "you can't have rock without a little roll." Then they played that mellowest of mellow songs, the serenest of the serene, "Dog and Butterfly" itself. Later, for a different song, she quipped, "You can't roll without a little rock, right?"

I went positively wild when Ann said, "This is my sister, Nancy." I gasped, "She's going to sing 'These Dreams'!" Nancy stepped up and talked about the '80s for a minute. She described "this next song" as a love song from that era that they just couldn't seem to quit playing. Then, sure enough, those familiar opening bars came through and Nancy's soulful voice trickled into the microphone like nectar for our ears.

While I did scream wildly the entire night, I stopped singing along after a song or two because it felt like my uvula was being ripped away from my velum, which made me cough at the end of every line. I figured it was best to just let those gorgeous ladies up there on the stage take it away. I've never been able to keep up with Ann's vocals, anyway. Nancy, yes. Ann, no. And Ann rocks just as hard today as she did when they recorded Dreamboat Annie in '76.

I haven't been to that many concerts. I went to a few free ones on campus last year, and there was that weird situation where I somehow wound up at an Alanis Morissette/Matchbox 20 concert at the Sprint Center. This was nothing like that. Everyone there was on their feet, crowding toward the stage, dressed to the nines in their best biker leathers and chains. A lot of men had braided beards. Bikers certainly have their own culture. They rock like it's 1969, or so I imagine. Minus the weed, of course. I hope.

As I was saying, though, I haven't been to that many concerts. I've always heard people talk about how artists "are so much better live", but I've never had any reason either agree or disagree. It's always just sounded to me like something people say. Sure, I liked Barcelona slightly better live than recorded, but I've always assumed that was because I heard them live first, so the recordings sound off to me. I spent most of the concert last night trying to decide if I should use that famous verdict when I told people about it. I kept waffling. Those girls are positively incredible live, but they're equally incredible on their albums. Or so I thought.

What else could they end with but "Barracuda"? For 40 years that opening riff has been iconic. For four decades aspiring guitarists have eagerly memorized it, and for four or five years young folk who don't know anything about the song or the band have been trying to nail it on Guitar Hero. Not to demean it or anything, but it's crap (comparatively). You've never heard that song, that riff, until you've heard it live. Part of that song has to be Nancy standing front and center, leaning back into the frets and jiggling the whammy bar. That song rocks so much harder when you can feel it all the way down through your chest and into your navel. There was a certain quality to the riff that I've never heard before. While it was a very real, audible phenomenon, the only name I can give it is pure, undiluted awesomeness. Then Nancy stepped off to the side and Ann stepped back up to the microphone and did what she does best. Every time they got to the word 'barracuda', they would turn floodlights on over the crowd and we would all scream it. I've never experienced anything like it.

At the end of the song, the stage blacked out and the band trouped off. The only sound was that of the crowd screaming. And screaming. And screaming. A few people started worming their way out of the pavilion, but I didn't want to move. The crowd was exuding so much anticipation that I felt like moving would be like walking away from true love. Some of them even started chanting, "Heart! Heart! Heart!" but it was just a subtle undertone to the general furor. And then something happened that I've only heard of in legend: They did an encore. They did two songs, neither of which were theirs, and only one of which sounded even vaguely familiar. I probably wouldn't recognize the songs again if I heard them on the radio, but I don't care. They were part of the magic of that night and that moment.

I finally walked away in a state of utter disbelief. As I said to my dad about 20 minutes later, after the conversation had shifted back to motorcycles, "Dad, I just saw Heart." I'm sure I spent the entire concert wearing a huge, dopey grin on my face. About every third song, I couldn't help but think to myself, Is this really happening? I can't believe this is happening. This is happening! I still can't believe it happened. It's unreal. How many kids my age love a band from bygone era that they'll never get to see in person because they were born too late? I was amused last night by a guy about my age who was standing next to me, just bobbing his head the whole time with his hands in his pockets. He got excited for the newer songs I'd never heard, while I went outright nuts for stuff from the '70s. He was seeing a contemporary rock group. I was seeing rock legends.

Did that really happen?

My poor, sensitive ears are still kind of ringing, and I woke up this morning with a scratchy voice. I suppose that's proof this wasn't a dream. But it was such a beautiful dream. Unforgettable. Momentous. Epic.

Listening to: Tron
Reading: Persuasion by Jane Austen


  1. Beautiful review! Sounds like you had the best time :D And btw the last songs they played are Led Zeppelin covers :)

  2. Led Zeppelin covers? That's fabulous! I guess I need to get more familiar with my Led Zep.