James Brown believed it was a man’s world back in 1966, but, if you were inside the Seneca Niagara Events Center last Thursday evening, you know that the Wilson sisters still have plenty to say in response to what Rolling Stone once called “biblical chauvinism.”
Not in an obvious We-Are-Women-Hear-Us-Roar sense, of course, because they’re too seasoned for that.
What I’m referring to is an understated feminist swagger which allows them to make a statement without coming across as desperate to be taken seriously by the patriarchal establishment.
Ann, Nancy, and the rest of Heart burst onto the scene with “Dreamboat Annie” in 1976 and warranted attention based on the strength of the songs rather than the allure of their womanly assets. They rocked as hard, if not harder, than many of their male counterparts from the era while refusing to be defined by anyone but themselves, something which all women in music appear to have struggled with at one time or another.
You see, friends, female musicians face a dilemma akin to what women in politics endure on a daily basis, because they’re pigeonholed into playing the role of either sex object or tomboy type who is criticized for not being feminine enough.
Apparently, this no-win situation is deemed acceptable by mainstream society when it comes to women of prominence.
I find this troubling as both a human being and as a music fan, because all that really matters to me is what you’re playing and how well you’re playing it. Why should I care about such frivolity given the fact that concepts such as beauty and gender expectations are the product of biased social construction to begin with?
All I need to know is how they carry themselves when the lights dim and the entire audience is left waiting to see what happens next.
Do they bring it, or don’t they?
You could hear the proverbial glass ceiling being blown to smithereens from the moment Ann opened her mouth on Thursday night, because she’s one of the greatest singers to ever step behind a microphone. Her stripped-down take on “Alone” sent shivers down the spine of every man, woman, and child in the room, while her ability to give Robert Plant a run for his money during the encore of Zeppelin tunes left even the modest fans at a loss for words.
Anyone who ever criticized her mid-1980s weight gain deserves to be called out for their gratuitous ad hominem attacks, but, as you know, those individuals clung to such arguments simply due to the reality that they had nothing legitimate to say regarding the band’s material.
Ann’s voice is so transcendent and threatening to the status quo that the haters are forced to resort to personal slights just to make themselves feel better about women invading what used to be a man’s game.
Add to that Nancy’s fiery guitar playing during “Barracuda,” “Heartless,” and “Crazy on You,” and you begin to see that Heart is just as formidable in 2014 as they were nearly 40 years ago. Her stage presence combined with lead guitarist Craig Bartock’s flashy soloing made for wealth of dynamite moments for the casino crowd to revel in.
“Dear Old America” and “Mashallah” were the only tracks from 2012’s “Fanatic” found in the set, but each track featured Ann absolutely killing it while proving that their new material is worthy of more acclaim than anything the mainstream bestowed upon it.
The finale of Zeppelin classics included “Immigrant Song,” “The Rain Song,” and “Misty Mountain Hop,” all of which were executed better than any Zeppelin tribute band I’ve ever seen. If you’ve seen the video of Heart covering “Stairway to Heaven” at the Kennedy Center Honors, you know that no one outside of Robert Plant himself can carry these songs quite like Ann.
One could argue that the show was a tad short at just 15 songs, but, when quality is taken into account, the women of Heart just can’t be beat.