A pair of Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famers were in town last night as the “Queens of Sheba” tour made its final Canadian stop in Montreal.
Kicking things off were The Mandevilles, a band from St Catharines, Ontario. Band co-founders Serena Pryne and Nick Lesyk are touring as an acoustic duo, showcasing tracks from their recent album “Windows and Stones”, and Pryne’s soulful voice was given plenty of opportunities to shine throughout their half hour set. In a wise move, they ended with a cover of The Who’s “The Real Me” which resonated well with the classic rock lovin’ audience, most of whom who hadn’t been paying much attention up to then unfortunately.
Then came the singer affectionately referred to as the Godmother of Punk, Joan Jett, backed by her Blackhearts. She wasted no time getting down to business and launched right into “Bad Reputation” followed by The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb”. She’s rolled her rock for a long time now, and to be honest it felt like much of the sharp edges are gone. At 57, she’s not a punk kid full of attitude anymore, but that spark is still there as she flashed her mischievous grin from time to time, shedding her black leather jacket and doing the show in a tight red suit. The tempos haven’t kept up either, as many songs felt a tad slow, but no matter: Joan Jett knows how to rock and rock she did.
“Do You Wanna Touch Me”, “TMI” and another Runaways track, “You Drive Me Wild” (which she introduced as the first song she ever wrote) and “Light of Day” kept the pace, but then the setlist ran out of steam a little and many people sat down unfortunately. The first chords of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” brought them back up to their feet, singing and clapping. “Crimson and Clover” and of course “I Hate Myself For Loving You” capped things off on a high note. After taking their bows, the band played “Everyday People” as an encore.
The Wilson sisters and Heart were up next, and they too didn’t waste any time, launching right into “Magic Man” and then “Heartless”. Ann Wilson’s amazing voice was in full force, hitting those high notes effortlessly. Nancy rocked her guitar expertly and harmonized with her sister, both voices joined together as one. The band often ignores their 80’s output, but this time “What About Love”, “These Dreams” and “Alone” made it into the setlist. All saw their arrangements reworked and slightly modernized (or maybe just had most of their 80’s trappings removed). As was the case with Joan Jett, a lot of the songs were played a tad slow, but “Alone” was the most affected to the point that it lost a lot of its effectiveness. The slower tempos allowed us to enjoy Ann’s voice to the fullest, but also robbed the songs of some of their vitality, which is a shame.
A pair of beautiful cover songs in the middle of the set got people sitting down again (Isn’t that what The Who meant when they sang ‘I hope I die before I get old’?), but “Even It Up”, “Beautiful Broken” (a song from their upcoming album), “Crazy On You” (with Nancy really digging into her acoustic guitar) and the finale “Barracuda” made sure the show ended on a high note.
With all their big hits ticked off, some people left and that’s too bad for them. For an encore, Heart offered three Led Zeppelin classics: “Immigrant Song”, “No Quarter” and “Misty Mountain Hop”, and while it’s entirely appropriate to argue that with such a catalog the band plays way too many covers, it must be noted that they completely owned these classic songs. The Wilson sisters are obviously having loads of fun playing these (maybe more than their own catalog at this point?) with Nancy wringing the powerful riffs from her Gibson guitar and Ann wailing away like a female Robert Plant. This encore trumped everything that came before it and finally showed us what this band can sound like when playing with passion.
I enjoyed Heart more in 2011 at Place des Arts, as the venue was more intimate and seemed more appropriate. They (and Jett) played excellent sets, but there was a tiredness in the music that prevented it from reaching higher. Live music can become magical when there’s that spark that comes from musicians in perfect sync feeding from an enthusiastic crowd: both sides failed to deliver on that level last night. Still a good night of rock ‘n roll if you don’t waste time wondering about what might have been. Classic songs, great musicians: fun night.
He's also a regular contributor at the excellent news site Montreal Rampage