SCHENECTADY There’s a good reason why Heart is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee this year — and why the band can still pack a room like Proctors to the gills, as they did Wednesday night.
It’s not really the songs — though the band has its fair share of incredible ones — nor is it the band’s hard-rocking approach. In fact, for most of the evening, the band — Nancy Wilson included — barely asserted itself, with no real surprises, no extended jams and no egos — just rock-solid playing providing near-pitch-perfect recreations of the studio recordings from the 1970s and ’80s.
No, the draw for Heart is all powerhouse vocalist Ann Wilson, who spent the 90-minute set snarling, crooning, belting and screaming out slab after slab of old fashioned, classic rock ‘n’ roll. She commanded the stage, not through any sort of frontwoman shtick (though she had charisma to spare), but through the sheer emotion she put into her performance, firing through each of the 14 songs in the main set as if it were her last.
Everything the band did simply enhanced her performance, with no gimmicks and no stage show trickery — a refreshing change of pace from most of the group’s contemporaries still on the road.
The band wasted no time firing up the crowd, hitting hard with opening number “Bebe le Strange” from the 1980 album of the same name, as the audience rose to its feet collectively. There was a slight dip in the excitement early on, with the band frontloading the set with new material from last year’s “Fanatic.” The title track got everyone back in their seats almost as fast as they had stood, although by the end of the rocking number, the crowd was starting to warm up again.
“Heartless” kept the energy level high before the band settled into the first power ballad of the evening, “What About Love?”. This was the first true showcase for Ann Wilson to strut her stuff behind the mic, and strut she did, at times threatening to overpower the band as many in the crowd sang along.
Another new song that immediately followed, “59 Crunch,” suffered from a lack of immediate hooks (despite some fine playing by Nancy Wilson and lead guitarist Craig Bartock). But the set quickly turned again as the band began focusing on its classic material — the next song up, the achingly beautiful “Love Alive,” was perhaps the highlight of the evening.
Ballads dominated the middle portion of the set, the best among these being the spacey “Dreamboat Annie,” “Dog & Butterfly” and of course, “These Dreams,” another powerful showcase for Ann Wilson’s pipes.
“Alone” stripped the group down to the Wilson sisters and keyboardist Debbie Shair, before the band kicked back into high gear to close out the main set with a couple of classics, “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda.”
Without an opener, the show seemed to end rather quickly, but the Wilson sisters stretched out with the encore. “Magic Man” gave the band a little more room to shine, and Bartock gladly took the spotlight for an extended solo. The cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” was all Ann Wilson, however, as she did her best Robert Plant while the audience cheered her on.