Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 25, 2007)
Back in the Seventies, Heart formed a pretty good little rock band. Led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson and essentially a XX-chromosome take on the era’s big acts like Led Zeppelin and the Who, Heart’s work never remotely compared to the heights achieved by those inspirations, but they created some quality material.
And then came the Eighties. Heart faded as one decade changed to another, but they bounced back in a big way with 1985’s Heart. While the old fans felt happy to see their faves top the charts again, I doubt many liked what they heard. Heart went for big hair and lowest common denominator crap that emphasized cheesy “power ballads” and made you forget that they’d ever been any good in the first place.
To my immense relief, a new DVD called Dreamboat Annie Live pretends the Eighties never existed. As implied by the title, this program focuses on the band’s debut album, 1976’s Dreamboat Annie. Heart plays the record from start to finish, in the track order from the original release.
Some acts occasionally do performances like this. For instance, back in 2005, Elton John played a few shows at which he tore through Captain Fantastic in its entirety. I heard Bowie give both Low and Heathen this treatment at a fan club only concert in 2002. And if I’m not mistaken, Phish would sometimes do this – except they’d play entire albums originally recorded by other artists!
But these instances are very rare exceptions to the rule, especially for acts with deep discographies. (If you only have one album under your belt, you’re kinda stuck playing the whole thing!) Heart could put on a show packed with hits, so the idea of hearing them chug through Annie in its entirety makes this an intriguing concert.
How much it appeals to you will depend on your fondness for Annie, of course. My interest in Heart remains pretty limited. Until I got this DVD and its sister CD release, I owned nothing by them, and that probably wasn’t going to change soon. I liked a few of their Seventies hits but never bothered to pick up any of their albums.
Now that I’ve given Annie a listen, I’d say it’s a decent piece of work. Perhaps its biggest flaw comes from the fact that it features the title tune not once, not twice, but three times! I understand that the Wilsons tried to make a point with all the “Annie” variations, but I still think it feels redundant and doesn’t really work.
As for the other songs, this will mark me as a casual fan, I suppose, but I definitely like the two hits the best. To me, “Magic Man” and “Crazy On You” remain the album’s top tunes. None of the others stand out as quite so memorable, though “(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song” and “White Lightning and Wine” work pretty well.
For the encore, the show broadens past Annie. We get Heart’s own “Mistral Wind” from 1978’s Dog and Butterfly. We also hear Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye Blue Sky”, Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and “Misty Mountain Hop” and the Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me”. This seems like an awfully short concert, but since the show existed mainly for this DVD and a sister CD, I shouldn’t view it under the same “rules” that’d govern a standard arena performance.
The program starts with some chat before we get to the concert. Ann and Nancy talk about their early days, the creation of Annie and its recording. Producer Mike Flicker also gives us some insights into that record. This part of the show goes quickly but it adds some nice background. Before the encore, Ann and Nancy talk a little more about their influences.
As for the performance itself, it varies from very good to moderately flawed. On the positive side, Ann Wilson’s voice remains pretty strong after all these years. She strains to hit the notes at times and doesn’t possess the sheer power she showed 30 years ago. However, she still holds her own for the most part, so it’s easy to forgive the occasional flat moment. Her vocal style would have challenged most singers at their peak, so it’s impressive she can still deliver the goods most of the time.
Craig Bartock’s lead guitar work also seems good most of the time, but he displays the most prominent flaws. During the lead portions of “Magic Man” and “Crazy On You”, she goes way off key and almost sinks those songs. I’m not obsessed with note-for-note accuracy, but Bartock hits some sour notes here, and they definitely distract.
Despite some ups and downs, I think that the majority of the performance sounds quite good. Since I don’t have great familiarity with the original Annie recording, I can’t compare and contrast. I do know some liberties are taken here, specifically when the show involves the Stockholm Strings; they bring an unusual touch to some of the songs and make them differ from their 1976 arrangements. I don’t know how well that’ll sit with fans who want note-for-note reproductions of the tracks, but I think it’s a good idea. At least it keeps the show from turning into a Vegas-style Heart tribute.
While the Annie set acts as the DVD’s centerpiece, I think the encore proves more enjoyable. “Mistral” gets things off to a slightly shaky start; I think it’s an overwrought and not very interesting tune, to be honest. The four covers are more interesting. I don’t know the Floyd’s original version of “Goodbye”, but the Heart rendition works well. The two Zeppelin takes are pretty literal but they sound good and show some life.
And then there’s “Reign”. After the prior tunes, I didn’t expect much from this performance, but the Wilsons damn near make the Who classic their own. Ann offers a vocal radically superior to anything Daltrey has been able to muster in decades, and the performance displays a terrific passion the band doesn’t quite muster the rest of the night. It’s not just a good cover; it’s goosebump-inducing intense. It’s easily the best performance of the night.
Director Ivan Dudynsky delivers the concert in a satisfying manner. I can’t say anything about the visual presentation soars, but these days I’m just happy when I get a concert DVD without various visual gimmicks and tricks. Dudynsky gives us a good view of the on-stage action without any unnecessary distractions. It’s a more than competent presentation.
Dreamboat Annie isn’t a great piece of work, and Heart was never a great band. However, both are pretty good, and this DVD presents an enjoyable glance at them.