Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Heart + Jason Bonham = Whole Lotta Crazy On Zeppelin Love -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience
Ravinia Festival, Chicago
July 29, 2013

What makes a great concert great?

Certainly there are a number of factors, often intangible, such as performance quality, pacing and passion.

But it would seem that a preponderance of great songs, well-played, would be a basic criteria.

But how much should it matter who is playing the songs and/or how they're being performed on-stage?

Although I could be referring to artists who supposedly lip sync all or a significant portion of their theoretically live vocals, or who supplement live music with pre-recorded backing tracks, that's not where I'm going with this.

Over just the past few weeks, I have seen Paul McCartney perform a bunch of Beatles and Wings songs with side musicians who were neither, American English play myriad Beatles songs while in costume, an ersatz Buddy Holly & the Crickets roll through greatest hits in the Buddy stage musical, Brian Wilson playing Beach Boys songs backed by an 11-piece band & occasional other lead vocalists and Dave Davies performing several Kinks songs that his brother Ray originally wrote and sang.

I enjoyed all these shows, albeit to varying degrees, and didn't worry too much about issues of artistic

But whether in the realm of rock concerts or "jukebox musical" theater, it does make you begin to wonder how much acute enjoyment--i.e. liking the songs being played--should be weighed against somewhat vague matters pertaining to originality, production integrity, promotion, etc.

This isn't a perfect parallel, but if you went to a museum to see paintings by Van Gogh or Da Vinci or Raphael or Monet that you found aesthetically pleasing, would it matter if you learned you were looking at replicas, not the originals?

I'm not going to derail this review of Heart's concert at Ravinia on Monday any further with some ambiguous thesis, but in giving it a @@@@1/2--which means I really liked it--it seems worthy noting upfront that the evening included the performance of 14 Led Zeppelin songs and 13 Heart songs (one an Elton John cover at that).

I love Led Zeppelin, and while I've seen two Jimmy Page & Robert Plant concerts, a few more by Plant solo and own some concert DVDs--including one of their one-off 2007 reunion show--it's looking like I'll never see a "Led Zeppelin concert" (and as the surviving band members approach 70, that's probably fine).

So not only was I not bothered by the Zeppelinesque evening, the fact that Heart is touring with Jason Bonham--who opens the show with his "Led Zeppelin Experience" and returns to back Heart for a bunch of Zep encores--was actually one of the primary reasons why I went.

I just hope Jimmy, Robert and John Paul Jones are getting their proper royalties somewhere, not that they should really need the dough.

And I do worry that in about 10 years the only concerts I'll want to see will be by tribute bands.

After a brief video tribute to his father John--the Led Zeppelin drummer whose 1980 death essentially ended the band's legendary run--Jason and his 4-piece band came on stage at about 7:20pm, about 10 minutes earlier than the ticketed time. I'm not sure why, since the whole show was over by 10:30.

I had a lawn seat so had gotten there plenty early--and unknowingly parked my sling chair right next to a friend--but would have been pissed had I missed Bonham's first song, "Rock 'n Roll." (As it was, I wound up standing alongside the pavilion most of the night.)

Jason doesn't quite match his father's thunderous opening drumbeat on that song--I've never heard anyone do so--but comes rather close. And with singer James Dylan providing a pretty convincing Plant-like wail, even if this was a Led Zeppelin facsimile, it is likely the best I've heard.

All 8 songs they played in the opening set were fantastic--especially "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" and "When the Levee Breaks," with its crowd pleasing "going to Chicago" lyric. (Jason Bonham setlist)

The pavilion crowd was quite appreciative, bestowing a raucous standing ovation to what was likely the best set of songs ever played by an opening act at Ravinia (with a caveat of course).

Still led by the Wilson sisters--lead singer Ann and guitarist Nancy--Heart opened their headlining set with a hard-charging "Barracuda."

Though now into her sixties, Ann remains a powerful vocalist and Heart highlights from both the 1970s and '80s--including "Heartless," "Magic Man," "What About Love" and "These Dreams"--sounded good in the open air.

Wisely, the sisters performed "Alone" as a fully-acoustic ballad, eliminating the over-the-top sheen of the 1987 original. And I appreciated Nancy delivering a solo version of one of my favorite Elton John songs, "I Need You to Turn To." (Heart Ravinia setlist)

Although I probably wouldn't have thought to include Heart on a rather brief list of "extant rock artists I've never seen live but really want to," they are now off it. And even without the Zeppelin component, their performance and setlist (though devoid of "Straight On" and "Love Alive") would have justified the price of a lawn admission at Ravinia.

That said, while I loved "Crazy On You" and others, in the sandwich of this evening, the set of Heart material wasn't quite as delectable as the bread Zeppelin.

Ann and Nancy opened the encores with a terrific version of "The Battle of Evermore," a song from Led Zeppelin IV that they had recorded for the Singles soundtrack (directed by Nancy's then husband Cameron Crowe).

With Ann remaining the sole singer on 5 more Zep classics, Bonham and guitarist Tony Catania joined Heart for "The Song Remains the Same," "The Rain Song," "The Immigrant Song," "Kashmir" and "Stairway to Heaven."

Evoking Heart's and Bonham's outstanding collaboration on last year's Kennedy Center Honors, the show-closing "Stairway" featured a chorus, supplied in this case by the Chicago Christian Choir. Perhaps it was my vantage point, but it didn't give me quite the same chills the televised version had, but was a pretty remarkable way to end a terrific night.

And a great concert, however one should be measured.

Here are videos of Heart's "Crazy On You" and the end of "Stairway to Heaven":

"Crazy On You"
"Stairway to Heaven" (partial)

No comments: