With so many rock heroes retiring, it’s even more important to honor the legacy of Heart.
Ann and Nancy Wilson were an anomaly when they created Heart in 1973 – sisters, rockers, hitmakers – and they remain not only a unique entry in the rock annals, but ones who can still bring it live.
On their first tour in three years, following a hiatus prompted by a family incident, the sisters Wilson demonstrated that even if their show moves a little slowly toward liftoff, once there, it’s a glorious feeling.
At a near-capacity Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Alpharetta on Monday, Heart - along with guests Brandi Carlile and engaging firebrand opener Elle King – kicked off their 90-minute set with “Rockin’ Heaven Down,” an album track from 1980’s “Bébé Le Strange.”
It was an unfamiliar song to many in the crowd, but a segue into “Magic Man,” with red and blue lasers streaming from the stage, prompted those not yet standing to their feet.
Nancy, in layers of black and yellow, and Ann, sporting a dragon-print black dress and black leggings that blended into her hot pink shoes, continue to defy age at 65 and 69, respectively.
It took Nancy 10 songs into the set, during a blistering “Even it Up,” to present some of her effortlessly cool rock star poses with her Flying V guitar. Meanwhile, Ann, robust throughout the concert, belted with authentic rawness during “What About Love,” one of three hits played from their run on ‘80s radio.
“We’re gonna go some places tonight,” Ann promised early in the show, before breaking out her flute for the intro to “Love Alive,” the 1977 “Little Queen” track that gives this tour its name.
The first chunk of the show included a heavy dose of covers – most of the five musicians backing the Wilson sisters joined the circular chorus of Yes’ “Your Move,” while the groove of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was knitted into “Straight On” – the most memorable among them a lovely cover of “The Boxer.” The pair unveiled a mellifluous rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel classic, accented with accordion, which prompted Ann to complement Nancy’s vocal work afterward and Nancy to refer to her sister as, “the best singer on the planet.”
A pretty, if subdued “These Dreams” paired nicely with “Dog & Butterfly,” but the moody (and lengthy) “Mistral Wind” – from 1978’s “Dog & Butterfly” album – killed the momentum between “What About Love” and the set-closing “Crazy On You.”
Much like with “Even it Up,” Nancy’s iconic guitar opening sparked a frenzied response from the crowd (she even finally delivered one of her patented kicks), while Ann nailed notes that were difficult enough when her voice was four decades younger.
Heart has often paid homage to Led Zeppelin in concert – and if anyone can match prime Robert Plant yowling, it’s Ann Wilson – and it’s still always a treat. Ann returned to her flute to open “Stairway to Heaven” – the first of a three-song encore – before she and the rest of the band walloped it home.
Actually, it was a rather fitting choice – one majestic set of sisters offering tribute to another group of legends.
Before Heart hit the stage, Carlile, a guest on only the Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., dates of the tour, thoroughly riveted with her hour-ish long set.
Flanked by twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth on guitars and in matching hats, Carlile set the tone with the foot-stomping, “Hold Out Your Hand,” furiously spitting lyrics with a smile.
In her black and gold jacket and kerchief tied around her neck, Carlile looked the part of a rhinestone cowgirl. But her music is almost indefinable, a soul-gripping amalgamation of roots, country and rock punctuated by homespun lyrics that will dig into your brain long after the songs have ended.
She appeared genuinely thrilled to be playing for such a large crowd – finally befitting her 20-years-in-the-making stardom – and presented a warm, funny, natural presence throughout her set.
She and her right (and left) hand guys were joined by a string trio, keyboardist and drummer, who added richness and texture to all of her layered songs.
But with a multi-octave voice as potent as Carlile’s, sometimes the sparsest moments were the most incredible.
She strummed her battered Gibson acoustic during “Wherever Is Your Heart” – sometimes squinting into the spotlight as she reached deep for another glorious vocal – and talked about her long history with the Hanseroth brothers before the trio captivated with the three-part harmonies of “The Eye.”
Carlile, 38, shared a charming story about her “obsession” with Joni Mitchell, and followed it with one of her three favorite songs of all time, Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Backed by only strings and a piano, Carlile unfurled an arresting cover that nearly silenced the typically distracted amphitheater crowd.
She delivered the sweetly honest “The Mother” solo onstage before the band sauntered back for “The Joke,” one of her most subtly powerful songs that was as moving a performance as her showstopping moment on this year’s Grammy Awards.
While Carlile’s current album, the award-winning “By the Way, I Forgive You,” obviously garnered the focus of her set, Carlile also dusted off 2007’s title track of “The Story,” during which she swapped her acoustic for electric for a hair-shaking guitar attack.
Carlile is a multi-faceted artist, able to zigzag between genres and tempos. And her time has finally, deservedly arrived.