Ann Wilson leaves behind broken Heart for solo tour
WHAT: Ann Wilson of Heart
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Packard Music Hall, 1703 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $71, $61, $51 and $41.
Ann Wilson and Heart have been bound together for nearly 45 years.
She’s the voice on “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” “Kick It Out,” “Straight On,” “These Dreams,” “Alone” and “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You.” Especially on those late ’70s/early ’80s rock radio hits, she also was the songwriter or co-writer with her sister, guitar player Nancy Wilson.
She isn’t abandoning the name of that band, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, although its future currently is in limbo. Her official billing is “Ann Wilson of Heart,” but the emphasis on the tour that comes to Packard Music Hall on Saturday is on the singer and not her old group.
“I think people should know it’s not going to be a Heart show,” Wilson said during a telephone interview last month. “There are only four or five Heart songs in the set, and they’ve been reimagined, but what’s there in place of Heart music are songs with relevant messages and wide-awake songs about society and humanity, songs about love and songs about conscience.
“There’s a full video program for every song that works really closely with them. It’s a full experience both visually and musically.”
Wilson draws from a wide range of music, from singers she grew up hearing (Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin), classic rock favorites (The Who, Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, Yes) and songs that were hits after Heart became platinum-selling stars (Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels”).
Wilson regularly plays three Who songs in her show — “The Real Me,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Love, Reign O’er Me.”
“It wasn’t purposeful,” she said. “I was looking for songs I really love. (They) all fit together even though they were written at different times. They’re powerful, muscular, stripped down and their beauty really hits people between the eyes.”
Just as she reworks the Heart songs in the set, she also experiments with the covers. Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” is sung over a percolating drum beat and an arrangement that blends the original melody with the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”
“I did a benefit a couple of years ago with Mike McCready (of Pearl Jam), and one of the songs we did that night was ‘Sympathy for the Devil,'” Wilson said. “That groove is so great. Then for this, I thought about ‘For What It’s Worth,’ but referring to the devil like ‘Sympathy’ does. There’s this underlying feeling, along with apathy goes evil. It’s a cool groove.”
One act that isn’t covered in the setlist is Led Zeppelin, whose songs have been a part of Heart setlists for decades. Heart’s performance of “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony for Led Zeppelin has been watched about 7 million times on YouTube.
“That was a conscious choice,” Wilson said. “We’ve been delving into Led Zeppelin so heavily with Heart that I wanted to move on to a different mindset.”
Backing Wilson on this tour are Craig Bartock, who’s played guitar with Heart for the last 12 years; bassist Andy Stoller, who was part of her previous solo project billed as the Ann Wilson Thing; drummer Denny Fongheiser, who played with Heart in the mid-’90s; and keyboard player Dan Walker.
“I was looking for a really capable, vital, muscular type band that could play the big rock but do it in a sophisticated way,” she said.
Wilson released a couple EPs as the Ann Wilson Thing and plans to release a third after the current tour. She’s also working on new songs, currently by herself, but she said she plans to use off days to flesh out those tracks with the rest of the band.
Wilson is no stranger to touring or being a primary focal point as lead singer, but she said fronting her own band is a different experience than sharing the stage with her sister as the leaders of Heart.
“This is more demanding but way more fulfilling,” Wilson said. “Heart had become such a huge machine with all these people on tour … Everyone just milking the gravy train. It got so big, I just had to walk out of there. I felt like I was a tiny grain of sand in this larger thing that was rolling along.”
The current tour has a smaller entourage, and the crew is a mix of Heart veterans and younger people who are being mentored and learning on the job.
“What we have is a tribe that is really close, and I really love being in charge of that and being the center of it. I feel like I exist. In terms of music, it goes without saying it’s the most satisfying thing to be be able to do whatever I want with no expectations.”
The tribe that is Heart currently is fractured. Rolling Stone reported earlier this year that the Wilson sisters are estranged following an incident last summer between Ann’s husband, Dean Wetter, and Nancy’s children that led to assault charges being filled against Wetter. Ann Wilson is touring with her solo project, and Nancy Wilson will be opening for Bob Seger on select dates of his upcoming tour.
As for Heart’s future, Ann Wilson said, “There are no plans for it at this time. I’ll be touring up until the end of October, then we’ll take a couple months off. There are no plans after 2017 … We’re just going to see what happens.”