Gig review: HEART – O2 Apollo, Manchester – 30 June 2016

In 2014 GRTR!’s David Randall chatted to Ann Wilson about her influences and Heart (First broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, 23 March 2014)

HEART - O2 Apollo, Manchester - 30 June 2016

One of the the main trends in the topsy-turvy music industry in the past 10 years has been the comeback of bands who disappeared off our radar in the 1990s (or earlier)? This can only be an indictment of the quality of new bands?

Swedish rockers Europe are one example and no matter how much they try and re-invent themselves – for better or for worse – they returned to enjoy more sustained success than in their glory days. Dan Reed Network is a more recent example, returning with some great live shows and one of their best albums.

FM - O2 Apollo, Manchester, 30 June 2016
Photo: David Randall

Tonight’s support FM are another example, returning in 2005 with pretty much the classic original line-up and going from strength to strength with several solid albums and continuous gigging. I wanted so much to like the band second time round but soon realised that although they ooze quality they have never stepped outside of their comfort zone and with a very dated AOR sheen. The sad thing is that they can only really appeal to a core audience who followed or remembered them from the mid-1980s.

HEART - O2 Apollo, Manchester - 30 June 2016

Heart are another conundrum. They’ve had some stellar success – mainly Stateside – but that’s largely pinned them to the late-1970s and 1980s and subsequent albums have been few and far between and frankly quite patchy.

In more recent times they haven’t consolidated their reputation and earlier success by touring in the UK so this set of dates was both a rare and welcome treat. We have, of course, had several excellent live releases such as ‘Alive In Seattle’ and ‘Fanatic Live’ to keep the flame burning, and to some extent this tour was a chance to confirm their live credentials.

HEART - O2 Apollo, Manchester, 30 June 2016Photo: David Randall

When I spoke to Ann Wilson back in 2014 she was evidently keen to play gigs in the UK after a hiatus of some 10 years or more. Someone should have whispered quietly that Brit audiences like value for money. An hour of music plus 15 minutes for the encores is not really acceptable.

Given their extended break from live performance in these shores (and I am not convinced that Heart have toured here to any great extent) tonight’s short set is verging on the criminal.  I can only assume that the band are too much in “three or four-way package tour” mode.

If you factor in that the three encores were Led Zeppelin covers, the band were rallying with their best known songs (and arguably encore material) – ‘Crazy On You’ and ‘Barracuda’ – just 45 minutes into the set.

HEART - O2 Apollo, Manchester - 30 June 2016

The setlist was always going to be difficult. I mean how do you cram a 40 year history into an hour? There was a judicious mix of the big ballads (including one from the new album, ‘Two’) and the more rumbustious. But the exclusion of songs like ‘Alone’ and indeed anything from their best-selling UK album ‘Bad Animals’ (1987) might seem unforgivable for an audience in need of Heart resuscitation.

Add in a tune that’s not even a Heart song – ‘Sand’ (which they performed in their side-project ‘The Lovemongers’) and three more tracks from the new album – the rather ordinary ‘Beautiful Broken’, ‘I Jump’ and the re-make of ‘Sweet Darlin’ – plus the less familiar ‘Kick It Out’ (from ‘Little Queen’) that back catalogue treasure trove was hardly plundered.

HEART - O2 Apollo, Manchester, 30 June 2016Photo: David Randall

Ann Wilson has been called the greatest female rock vocalist and you couldn’t argue with that tonight. She is also an engaging front-person, moving energetically around the stage and more mobile than singers half her age, especially on the funky ‘Straight On’. And addressing the packed Manchester audience after the more opulent environs of the Royal Albert Hall she mused that it was more fitting surroundings for our “garage” band.

HEART - O2 Apollo, Manchester - 30 June 2016

She’s one part witch-queen to two parts diva, contrasting with sister Nancy who undertakes a more passive role but no less impressive on guitars, backing vocals, and a particularly convincing lead vocal on ‘These Dreams’.

HEART - O2 Apollo, Manchester, 30 June 2016Photo: David Randall

Of the band, only Ben Smith (drums) remains from the mid-1990s and their somewhat leaden performance underlined that since the early-1980s Heart have essentially been Ann and Nancy and a revolving studio door, any semblance of original band dissipated in 1982 with the departure of Steve Fossen and Mike DeRosier.

We know that the two sisters have been heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin and they usually include a tribute in their live shows. But three songs in succession for the encore after that short set seems somewhat excessive.

The sad thing is that in the current economic climate the AOR monolith that is Heart may never tour again in the UK and you would have to question the decision – after such a long break and with such great audience expectation – to truncate a back catalogue overflowing with potential.  A 45 minute interval merely rubbed salt into the wound.

Setlist 1. Magic Man 2. What About Love 3. Beautiful Broken 4. Sand 5. These Dreams 6. Two 7. Straight On 8. Sweet Darlin’ 9. Kick It Out 10. I Jump 11. Crazy On You 12. Barracuda Encore: 13. Immigrant Song 14. No Quarter 15. Misty Mountain Hop

Review by David Randall
Photos by Steve Goudie, except where stated

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 18 April 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at for that week.

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