Given my great love of 70s and 80s rock, I was excited to see Ann Wilson of Heart play at the Wiltern. I hadn’t previously seen her play with Heart, and I somehow had never been to the Wiltern before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on either count. Neither disappointed.
Ann kept the audience’s attention by mixing up the tempo – rocking out on some Heart songs, then playing others slowed down. She also alternated between her own tunes and covers of other bands’ hit songs, including crowd pleasers from the Who and the Animals.
I had wondered how much you would feel the absence of her sister, Nancy. Would there be an obvious, gaping hole the way there often is if you see bands that are missing a member? Ultimately, you noticed Nancy’s absence but walked away with a feeling that this was just a fun opportunity for Ann to perform between Heart tours while being able to sing a wider range of music than she normally might be able to.
She seemed to be enjoying herself way more than she was in the videos from their 80s-vampire-boudoir-and-big-hair video heyday, and the fans loved it. While mostly older, the crowd also included a scattering of super-hyper younger people who leaped about wildly. Candles dotted the stage to set the mood, perched on the amps and on the edges of each instrument’s platform.
The show included two sets, complete with costume changes, plus two encores. While she spoke briefly at various points, she mostly focused on rocking out. Toward the end, there were several timely political statements. First, the video playing behind her rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” included footage from civil rights protests mixed with images of “pussy hat”-wearing Women’s March crowds in DC. Then, in case you hadn’t figured out her political leanings yet, she introduced “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” with a shout-out to Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood.
There were a few moments when the sound mixing felt off and her voice was lost behind the band, but they quickly improved the balance. The other odd note was the videos playing behind her. They ran the gamut from black & white movie screens to what looked like a mid-90s screensaver to a swirling time lapse cloud-and-river scene that seemed straight out of the Nature Company, circa 1992. They generally had no obvious connection to the music but were plenty weird. Needless to say, they kept me transfixed.
After the show, I wandered to the front of the stage. Rabid fans lingered, asking the roadies for the set list and for the flowers that lined the front of the stage. I was struck both by how polite her fans were and by how responsive the tech team was – pausing in their work to please the crowd.
Overall, the concert was a success. Even when she sang songs I didn’t recognize, she held the crowd’s attention. At many other bands’ shows, the crowds jump up for the most famous songs, then text through the rest – not so here. In the historic venue, there was a feeling of intimacy throughout. I enjoyed it from start to finish.