GRAND ISLAND - Heart, Ann Wilson says, has "been around for awhile."
"Our first album came out in 1976," she told a Nebraska State Fair audience Sunday. "That was before the CD. I remember that."
Then came a delicately arranged version of "Dog and Butterfly" immediately followed by another quip: "The 1980s we took out bicycle pumps and pumped up our hair," she said. "We just couldn't get it big enough."
That was the lead-in for sister Nancy Wilson to take the lead vocals on a somewhat stripped-down version of "These Dreams," which still echoed with the booming drums that typified '80s production.
Those songs came as Heart punched its way through its sizable catalog of hits. Unlike many classic rock bands, Heart's still making records. "Red Velvet Car," its 13th album will be released Tuesday and provided three songs in the set, including the catchy "Hey You" and the thundering "WTF."
I've always thought Ann Wilson had one of the great rock voices, soaring and diving with passion. But as much as she'd like to be the female Robert Plant, she's too precise and clear for that. She sounded great Sunday, whether screaming on a rocker, delivering the ache of ballads like "What About Love" or providing the punch in mid-tempo numbers ala "Straight On For You."
With Nancy Wilson providing rhythm guitar, both electric and acoustic, the band is a solid, talented outfit, sliding The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" into "Even It Up," turning the song sinuous. Nancy Wilson also played an acoustic solo that managed not to be boring that shifted into the intro of "Crazy on You." Which was followed by the rumble of "Barracuda" as Heart blasted to the finish of an excellent show.
I haven't seen Heart for years. The Wilson sisters and company were as good as ever Sunday. I've long believed Heart was under-appreciated and am more convinced of that after the 100-minute show Sunday. Without question, they are of a time and style that has fallen out of fashion. But Heart sure is good.
Sunday's concert was the first show I've seen in the Heartland Events Center, which sits smack in the middle of the new State Fairgrounds. The smaller hockey-style arena is a very good concert venue, with excellent sight lines and clear, clean, crisp sound. That's a step up for the fair from either the old Open Air Auditorium or the Bob Devaney Sports Center, which was designed for basketball not concerts.
The Event Center already has proven itself to be a successful venue for fair shows. Saturday's "free" concert by Lifehouse packed the place, drawing 6,100 people with more turned away.
More than 3,000 people paid $15 to see Heart on Sunday, a good, if slightly smaller than hoped for crowd.
The fair has one more ticketed show, a Sunday appearance by country's Martina McBride. The remaining free concerts (with gate admission) are: Tuesday: Mel Tillis; Thursday: Casting Crowns; Friday: Boys Like Girls; Labor Day: Josh Turner.
Reach L. Kent Wolgamott
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