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Blair’s DVD Watch: Heart’s Classic First Album Is Born Again on DVD (and CD)

Heart: Dreamboat Annie Live
(Shout! Factory)

This whole business of bands playing legendary albums in their entirety is an interesting trend. I guess it really started with a soon-to-be classic 28 years ago, when The Who would regularly perform their then-new Tommy at many shows. My recollection is that Pink Floyd played most, if not all, of Dark Side of the Moon live and in order on their 1972 “Eclipse” and ’73 “Dark Side…” tours, both of which I saw and was blown away by; they definitely did it for The Wall a few years later. More recently, former Floyd member Roger Waters has taken to pleasing crowds at his shows by performing the entire album. Two years ago Patti Smith released a live CD of her current band (which isn’t much different than her original band) playing her 1975 debut album, Horses, in order, in its entirety. The performances were pretty true to the original album, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. I mean, performing something essentially the same as you did 30 years earlier doesn’t exactly show growth as an artist. (Ironic, since Patti has grown tremendously since then). But I suppose it’s nice for audiences who grew up on certain classics to be able to hear every song on an album—even the less than thrilling tunes!—in concentrated form. (It certainly takes away the element of surprise for the concertgoer, however, not to mention diminishing the way a song’s appearance in a concert between other newer and perhaps older songs changes the context and feeling of the classic tunes.)

Heart is the quintessential Classic Rock band—stalwarts of the ’70s and ’80s who have been somewhat frozen in time, the same seven or eight songs played to death on rock radio since they were hits originally for the group way back when. Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson have kept busy through the years, working on various projects and reuniting to work together from time to time. Let’s face it—talented though the other players in the group were (and props should go out to original guitarist Roger Fisher, bassist Steve Fossen, keyboardist/arranger Howard Leese and drummer Michael Derosier), Ann and Nancy were the public face of Heart, so the fact that they can put together a new band to perform their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, with no other original members, is not as jarring as it might be with some other group. And the core unit they’ve got behind them for this April 2007 show in L.A. is pretty damn good: Craig Bartock on guitar, Ric Markmann on bass, Ben Smith on drums and Debbie Shair on keys; plus the sound is filled out by a percussionist, a couple of backup singers and the six-member Stockholm Strings. It’s a big and varied enough lineup to re-create the album very well indeed; an impressive accomplishment.

Though I think, song-for-song, the group’s next album, Magazine, was actually their best, there’s lots to like here besides the three big radio hits—“Crazy On You,” “Magic Man” and “Dreamboat Annie.” It’s been so many years since I owned this album (I never bought it on CD and my vinyl copy disappeared eons ago), I’d forgotten how many good songs there are. “Soul of the Sea,” with Nancy on luscious 12-string, is a wonderful ballad that shows the influence of the softer side of Led Zeppelin on the ladies (that group’s influence on Heart’s rockin’ side has been well documented; more on that in a moment.) “White Lightning and Wine” is a powerful, if slightly generic, rocker that gives guitarist Bartock the chance to shred a little, though nothing on this DVD (or the identical CD version) really cuts loose very much. In general, the arrangements are full but never cloying; a song like “Sing Child” could have been buried under its orchestration and vocals, but instead just sounds powerful. And I can’t say enough about Ann Wilson. She has lost absolutely nothing vocally. It’s amazing that after all these years she still has that range and ability to go from ethereally pretty vocals to power-mama screamin’. She’s definitely one of the greats.

Merely re-creating Dreamboat Annie would have made for a pretty short DVD, so it’s nice that there’s more. The first few minutes are devoted to a succinct, well-told history of the group, featuring informative interview footage of the Wilsons and others. Then there’s the concert’s five-song encore, which includes not one, but two Led Zep covers: “Black Dog,” (which was an early staple of the group’s) and “Misty Mountain Hop” (also perfect for the band); and concludes with a spectacular version of The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me,” which turns out to be another great cover choice. Plenty of fireworks on that one!

Beautifully directed by Ian Dudynsky, with a minimum of distracting on-the-beat cuts, the DVD also boasts outstanding audio that clearly captures both the power and delicacy of the band. Peter Baird was audio supervisor, Jeff Adelman handled sound, and it was mixed by Craig Bartock and Peter Barker. Yes, it’s a nostalgia trip by and large, but the vitality and conviction of the performances make it a trip back in time worth taking. The DVD and CD will be released October 23.

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