Wilson’s voice still can wow crowds

Special to the Tribune Chronicle / Bob Jadloski Ann Wilson of Heart opened her Packard Music Hall concert Saturday with The Who’s “The Real Me” before performing a mix of reworked Heart favorites, solo material and covers of Yes, Jimi Hendrix and others.

WARREN — It took the audience and Ann Wilson awhile to warm up to each other Saturday at Packard Music Hall.

It has to be disheartening as a performer to look out on a less than half-full theater, which is what greeted the lead singer of Heart on this date of her solo tour. And the response from the audience seemed muted early on, even as Wilson was delivering her take on Heart hits like “Baracuda,” “Crazy on You” and “What About Love.”

But as the show continued, those ovations lengthened and swelled, and Wilson was beaming. Only the promoter left unhappy.

Saturday’s concert was wholly satisfying … as long as audience members knew what to expect or were willing to abandon their expectations.

This wasn’t a Heart tour without sister Nancy or even a tour that heavily pushed the solo material Wilson has recorded as The Ann Wilson Thing.

There was some of that, but most of the set was one of the most magnificent voices in rock exploring songs that are special to her and seem special for today.

“We’re going to be fellow explorers,” Wilson said.

It’s obvious that songs like The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” were chosen to comment on these political times. The final lyrics of the night came from Ray Charles’ Danger Zone – “The world is in an uproar/The danger zone is everywhere.”

But Wilson let the lyrics speak for her. Her between-song patter expressed more universal, unifying themes. She described “Fool No More,” which she wrote with guitar player Craig Bartock, as a blues song about “the sin of letting time go by without noticing it.”

Before the Elvis Presley hit “One Night With You,” she said, “We waste an awful lot of time being too careful sometimes,” and the song was accompanied by a video of couples of different ethnicities and orientations expressing their love for each other.

Wilson, whose 67th birthday is today, still has a remarkable voice. There was the occasional note she couldn’t sustain the way she did when “Barracuda” was recorded 40 years ago and she couldn’t quite match Roger Daltrey’s wail on “Love, Reign O’er Me,” but those are minor quibbles.

Her voice truly is amazing, and the decades only have added to her ability to interpret the words she sings, to find their essence. Wilson still can hit the notes without ever making the performance just about hitting the notes. Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” The Who’s “Reign,” a rockin’ “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” and a smoky “I Put a Spell on You” all were second half highlights.

She also surrounded herself with a talented band. Bartock, who’s played guitar with Heart for the last dozen years, soloed nimbly on his “Fool No More” and spent the night playing riffs and solos on songs that originally featured Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Howe and other guitar wizards.

Keyboard player Dan Walker also showed impressive range, equally skilled at the synthy sounds of those Who keyboard parts and Ray Charles-style organ playing on “Danger Zone.”