If you’ll overlook the condescension inherent in the term, there’s been a perceptible rise in nostalgia-act tours with multiple billings this year. From Desert Trip’s lineup of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and others to Cutting Crew playing with Wang Chung, A Flock of Seagulls, and Bow Wow Wow in Rohnert Park next week, it’s as if people clamoring for an opportunity to catch acts they might not see again won’t do it without at least two other bands on the roster.
This past Wednesday, at Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheatre, it was Cheap Trick, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Heart. (Evading rush-hour traffic on 101 is impossible, so making it from San Francisco in time for Cheap Trick’s 6:30 p.m. set wasn’t in the cards; we only caught “Surrender,”— the 1978 anthem to realizing your parents might actually be cool— which was the band’s debut single and also its closer.
Looking like a punk-rock Joyce DeWitt, Jett opened with “Bad Reputation” and The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb,” with the video projection behind her composed of various TV screens rapidly scrolling through different images. It’s a curious motif for a punk, as you’d think to associate them with an anti-commercial stance — prone to smashing TVs with their guitars, not watching them — but it had an aggressive, no-attention-span kind of feel. On the upper-tier grass as the sun went down, the audience was female-dominated and fairly boisterous in a moms’-night-out kind of way; Pinot Noir is their cherry bomb. Jett’s sexy voice sounded a little Marianne-Faithfull rough, and engaging the audience with call-and-response vocals on “Do You Want to Touch Me?” — which was only the third song of the set — implies that she’s keen on conserving her vocals. An obligatory shout-out to California later, she played another Runaways’ cut (“You Drive Me Wild”) before covering Bruce Springsteen’s “Light of Day,” sweetly paying tribute to Michael J. Fox, with whom Jett starred in the movie of the same name.
It wasn’t all covers, though. Jett played a newer song, “Fragile” (“a quality I hope you all possess”) and it was such a back-to-basics effort that you could sing along to the chorus after hearing it only once. And anything that draws out more camaraderie is welcome. Then it was “Fake Friends,” “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” and her famous cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” (As a side note, is there any band whose catalogue yielded more covers-that-are-more-famous-than-the-originals than Tommy James and the Shondells? Besides Joan Jett, Prince’s cover of “Crimson and Clover” is well-known, plus there’s Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony” and Debbie Gibson’s version of “I Think We’re Alone Now.”) She closed out on “I Hate Myself for Loving You” and a rousing, heartfelt rendition of Sly Stone’s “Everyday People” — which even 20 years after that campaign, I still associate with Toyota.
But if Joan Jett sounded fatigued at moments, Heart tore it up. The boundary between good and cheese is never harder to establish than when talking about 1980s power ballads, but Ann Wilson’s voice sounds as magnificent as it ever did. Overall, I left the venue not with any one song in my head but with the entire set banging around in there, probably because if you’ve ever attempted a Heart song at karaoke, you know that it’s impossible to do well. Only they can do it. And they played most of those numbers, leading off with Romeo’s Daughter’s “Wild Child” before heading straight through “Magic Man, “What About Love” and “These Dreams.”
The one missing piece was “Dreamboat Annie,” but it sounded just like the classic rock radio station you grew up with, and the stage banter was very charming. With a woman poised to win the White House, it’s appropriate to note that Ann and Nancy Wilson — and Jett, for that matter — got where they did when it was even harder than it is now for women to succeed.
“Somebody had to get out there first,” Ann said,” to join our brothers in equality in rock … Someday, there won’t be a word for feminism. It’ll just be.”
“People ask us all the time, ‘Are you sisters?’ ” she added later. “These are the molecules that comprise the Wilson sisters!”
After front-loading “Straight On” with a bit of James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” and the sweetly bold “Beautiful Broken,” it was time for the big trifecta: “Alone,” “Crazy on You,” and (of course) “Barracuda.” On “Crazy on You” in particular, woe to he or she who thinks they can attempt this one at home, but the a capella lead-in on “Alone” reduced a crowd that had been giddily singing along to silence.
These dual vibratos alone should have been enough to keep anyone who was checking their watch decide to stick around for the encore. Of course, people have lives to live, but it means missing two Led Zeppelin covers: “Immigrant Song” and “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s far from an unexpected Heart move, covering “Stairway,” but the fidelity to the original was lovely, and the drawn-out denouement ended the night in the most authoritative way: Nothing to see here, only that rock ‘n’ roll lives.
Jimmy Page was allegedly all set to play Desert Trip, until Robert Plant said no. Whether you’re going to the Coachella Valley this October or not, only one group of fans got to hear the pre-eminent classic rock song of all time.