[16 October 2008]
There are some things which are absolutely certain, which will admit no disproof. One such definite is “I am” (thank you very much, Descartes). Others are death and taxes (thank you very much, Ben Franklin). The final, and perhaps most readily apparent, is that Heart rocks. Even the most pig-headed misogynist must admit that “Barracuda” lives in some rock Valhalla, right around the block from the entire Queen discography.
I defy you to find me a heart so hardened (pun excused) that by the end of “Crazy on You” its owner is not crawling on the floor tossing his hair Lita Ford-style. I certainly know that many of my summer nights ended with me in such a state at the various karaoke haunts of Pittsburgh.
It is no surprise, then, that when I saw that a recording of a new Heart concert was coming to DVD, I donned my Wilson sister XL t-shirt and nervously waited for the mail. I was briefly worried that, perhaps, age might diminish the awe-inspiring rock of Heart. Silly me. A few weeks later, Soundstage Presents: Heart Live arrived and Ann and Nancy laid any fears that graying hair could diminish their rock to rest. Well, truth be told, neither has gray hair, but the point stands.
Soundstage Presents: Heart Live showcases an incredible 24- song set from the perennially vibrant Wilson sisters and Co. The concert includes most of their notable hits, with the lone, and depressing, exception of “What About Love”. Covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and “Misty Mountain Hop” are included as sure pleasers for classic rock enthusiasts, but I would have rather just heard more of Heart’s own catalogue. If nothing else, these covers prove the remarkable range of a band too often pigeon-holed as balladeers.
The recording quality is impressive and the DVD sounds as good as any studio outing. I can find no fault in Soundstage’s methods in producing the cleanest possible concert experience. None of the traditional pitfalls of low-light or diminished audio mar this gem.
However, a few songs in you will probably notice that something is not quite right. Somewhere between the Windows Media Player-style visualization projected behind the band and the absolutely insipid audience, Soundstage’s offering breaks down. Much like the disquiet one feels when they see a silverback in captivity, it seems as if Heart’s rock is some way impinged upon by the hyper-constructed Soundstage… soundstage.
It appears as if the company lured about a hundred folks who could care less about Heart to a concert with the promise of Crafts service and mild fame. The subtle head-nodding of a few individuals is the only thing that reassured me that the audience was not a cadre of straw men. Everyone is just too well-behaved for a rock concert.
Similarly, the fact that it occurs on a soundstage eliminates any hints of spontaneity. The entire appeal of live music is that anything could happen. Who knows what crazy antics the front man will engage in, who knows what covers might come out. Instead, Soundstage Presents: Heart Live presents a performance that is so intently put-together that spontaneity is suffocated. Two Zepp covers? It’s as if someone was reading from a “How to Put Together a Rock Show” manual.
In the end, none of these faults are really enough to hold me back from advocating this purchase. It’s impressive enough that Heart really is as good as their catalogue would suggest. I just wish I could see them in their native environment.
The special features are as predictable as the concert. An interview that asks about an artist’s inspiration, sigh. The Wilson sisters talk about the song-writing process and discovering themselves and all those nuggets that you weather just in the hope of hearing about some drug/sex misadventures. Unfortunately, no such Behind the Music here. Just more scripted content.