Legends never grow old, they simply watch the world change around them and occasionally change with it, or at least that’s the lesson that the audiences that have witnessed the spring tour of Ann Wilson on the heels of her most recent solo album “Fierce Bliss.” It’s a fitting title for an album that embodies the fire and the beauty that has endured throughout this rock icon’s tenure in the studio and live circuit since the mid-1970s, two attributes that have not been blunted in the slightest in the decades that would follow. In the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdowns, the appropriately dubbed Rite of June mini-tour has now reached the latter half of said month, and a stop in the Fort Lauderdale area on the 17th of said month would bring a few interesting twists on a set that could be best described as a full dose of nostalgia with a side order of present day pizzazz, all communicated with the level of fervor that one would expect of an artist half Ann’s current age.
It goes without saying that this elite veteran of hard rock speaks the language that goes with the art in a truly boisterous and powerful manner, but the degree that this has endured as she enters her early 70s is nothing short of amazing. Along for the ride is a level of control and versatility that goes with an extensive career spanning nearly five decades, as demonstrated by the highly varied repertoire of selections by Heart, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley, Queen, The Who and her own solo work that graced this Friday night event. One would naturally be remiss not to give credit to her highly competent instrumental collaborators, which would include guitarist and co-producer of her latest album Tony Bukovac, all of whom performed in the most exemplary of fashions as they set out to recall the plethora of stylistic niches that typified all of the bands from yesterday and further back that either inspired Ann’s career or coincided with it at some point between the 70s and 90s.
Though this mini tour has tended to feature a similar collection of high grade slabs of rock nostalgia, one of its most potent charms is the regular re-ordering and reshuffling of the deck, imbuing a sense of old school spontaneity to go with the lion’s share of throwback selections. Beloved Heart banger “Magic Man” would find its way into a slightly earlier part of the set than previous evenings as the fourth number, arriving to heavy cheers and elation as a faithful and near flawless execution of the 1975 breakout hit. Similar reactions were elicited with the entry of other mega hits from the same era in the galloping rock beast “Barracuda” and the intricate and infectious fanfare of “Crazy On You”. Ann’s voice would really be put to the test with the contrasting presentations of the heavily subdued Jeff Buckley song “Forget Her”, the wildly dynamic power-balladry of Queen’s “Love Of My Life” and the jagged-edged grit and grandeur of The Who’s “Love Reign Over Me”, but the end result was a resounding triumph that seemed all but totally effortless.
Yet when all was said and done, the final word would prove to be the most potent part of this highly engaging performance. Opting to substitute out a closing favorite from prior appearances on this tour, Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” would find itself replaced by the even better known rock radio staple “Stairway To Heaven”, performed with an arrangement that perfectly mirrored even the choir of recorders featured in the acoustic first half of this prototypical power ballad. Ann’s performance was the obvious center of attention with frequent ornamentation of Robert Plant’s original interpretation of the song in tow and no shortage in the power department despite being at the tail-end of a fairly long set, but the rest of the band proved highly animated and filled the roles of Page, Jones and Bonham adequately. It was an all too familiar refrain for all in attendance, but realized so proficiently that it could have easily silenced any naysayers quoting the famous “No Stairway” joke from Wayne’s World were any to have been in attendance.
Arguably the greatest take away from this stellar occasion was that one is never too old to bring down the house, and retirement is only a viable option when one is heading down for the dirt nap. Though roughly 90% of what was heard hearkened back to a bygone era and rode the nostalgia wave to the proverbial finish line, it should be noted that entries from Wilson’s aforementioned 3rd solo album such as the punchy rocker “Greed” and the haunting ballad with a rough edge “Black Wing” were extremely well received despite a lack of out of tune voices insisting on singing along with every last note. The Ann Wilson legacy may be firmly rooted in the glory days of the 1970s and to a lesser extent in her subsequent association with various players during the 90s, but the tree that is her career is still branching out and bearing leaves in the present. Whatever may lay ahead, this is an elder purveyor of the art that is still treading onward, and all who have been privileged to witness the new paths being beaten can only hope for more.
ANN WILSON Set-list:
Even It Up (Heart song) / Black Wing / Isolation (John Lennon cover) / Magic Man (Heart song) / Rain Of Hell / Greed / Forget Her (Jeff Buckley cover) / Love, Reign O’er Me (The Who cover) / Crazy on You (Heart song) / Love Alive (Heart song) / The Revolution Starts… (Steve Earle cover) / Bridge of Sighs (Robin Trower cover) / Love of My Life (Queen cover) / Barracuda (Heart song)
Straight On (Heart song) / Going to California (Led Zeppelin cover) / Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin cover)