When the BOK Center opens its doors this coming Tuesday night, July 19, for Def Leppard, chances are there will be nearly as many people showing up to see "special guest" (And as far as I'm concerned, co-headliner) Heart as there are for the British hard rock group.
While Def Leppard brings three decades of songs to the table, Heart arrives with an added decade under its belt and the wisdom that comes with an evolution that has seen the band coming full circle in its writing and sound.
Currently touring behind its latest album, Red Velvet Car, Heart played a more intimate and telling show at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on April 8 before launching out on the arena jaunt with Def Leppard for the summer.
Lead singer Ann Wilson said things have worked out near perfectly because the band was able to introduce and explain the songs even before the new album was released.
"When we were playing, before each new song, I'd stop and give a short description of what the song was about and it really helped people not just go, 'Oh, it's a new song' and get up to go get a T-shirt or beer or whatever," she said about how the interaction helped engage the audience with the songs.
"We were doing that just as the album came out and when we got to New York City it became quite a little bru-ha-ha," she chuckled. "We were playing there the night it came out and we had Rolling Stone and Spin and all of these other magazines and press there and backstage. It ended up being a really great launch for the new record."
The extensive leg work also paid off as it helped the audience warm up to the newer material more quickly. "As it turned out," Wilson continued, "we've been able to continue to play the new stuff because people are getting into it now."
As most fans know, Heart has had quite a career arc, launching in the mid '70s with a more acoustic and classic rock sound before evolving into an MTV and commercial rock juggernaut in the mid '80s. My personal introduction to the band, however, was 1983's transitional album, Passionworks, which is largely overlooked.
"That was right before MTV really took off and before music was becoming more visual," Wilson said about that album. "It was more auditory at that point and people were still listening. It was like there were a cast of characters that all played roles in the songs that people were listening for and becoming a part of. That was probably our last album before all that changed and it became more visually based."
Over the past few albums, Heart's sound has gradually arrived where it started, with Red Velvet Car having more in common with albums like Dreamboat Annie, Little Queen or Dog & Butterfly. The band has cycled back to a point where you can hear The Beatles and Led Zeppelin influences more openly and the arrangements, while still modern, recall the band's classic '70s material.
"When we made this last record, we thought we're finally at the point where we don't need to worry about making people happy. We're free to do whatever we want to do," Wilson explained. "As honestly as you try and tell yourself that and want it to be that way, you know that there are always expectations out there, but this really was the most free we've ever been in making a record."
In fact, the experience and response has been so strong that Wilson said that she and sister Nancy (Wilson, guitarist and songwriter) are already planning to make another record in the same manner.
When mentioning the band cycling back, sonically, to a more classic sound that incorporates the aforementioned influences, Wilson explained that "So much of that comes from Nancy's acoustic guitar -- that's always been at the center of what we do. It's just a matter of how she plays: she plays really hard and with her fingers. It has a distinct sound and just adds a substance to what we do."
Undeniably, Heart -- and the Wilson sisters, specifically --have been trailblazers and opened a number of doors for women in the rock world. As a result, it's interesting to hear which women in music impress Wilson the most in the current music scene.
"There are a whole lot of singers and women singers now and a lot of great bands, but I can really only comment on the ones that I feel are really awesome," she said.
That said, she immediately made note of singer/songwriter Adele.
"She really knows who she is and has a really strong, expressive voice -- and doesn't use auto-tune or anything," Wilson said. "It's a relief to hear someone who is confident in themselves and really sings now."
Wilson also mentioned Lucinda Williams, "Who I know really isn't as current right now," she said. "I just love how, as a singer, her voice is so thrashed, yet so soulful. Both lyrically and vocally, she just cuts to the quick."
Wilson's third pick may possibly be the most surprising, as she also made note of Lady Gaga. "I think that underneath everything, she's really a good singer, even though it's hard to hear clearly through all of the spectacle and effects. I think if you stripped all of that away, I expect she's got more of a gospel quality to her voice. Hopefully we'll get to see that as she continues to grow and develop."
As interesting as that is, summers tend to be about big arena tours and this year's jaunt presents a rather curious pairing with Def Leppard.
"It's really interesting. I understand that the place that we really meet and overlap is the '80s, but we've both really gone on since then and done a lot more," she said about the tour pairing, noting that Leppard's big, glitzy live show contrasts with Heart's stripped-down performance.
"It's small, but powerful," Wilson said. "It's been road tested and proven."
Tickets are still available for Def Leppard and Heart at BOK Center this Tuesday night, July 19, with prices ranging from $35-$125. As Wilson assured me, the evening will cover all the bases, from classic songwriting to big arena bombast and spectacle, as well as a long string of hits from each act.
Share this article: