(Headline Photo Credit: Criss Cain)
The walk from the parking garage to Universal City Walk isn’t too bad of a voyage. But when you add the infamous Florida summer rain, it can make it a bit more challenging. As I get Hard Rock Live in my site I can’t help but stare in amazement at the line to get into the building. Even the heavy rain and wind wouldn’t keep fans away from seeing one of rock’s greatest voices from performing in front of their eyes. When I finally walk into the venue I’m shocked yet again as I see all the additional seating lined up as far back as behind the soundboard, setting this up to be the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen in this room.
Shortly after 8 o’clock, with a packed house in attendance, the room lights drop igniting a roar from the crowd. The stage curtain glows a dark green as the silhouettes of Guitarist Tom Bukovac, Keyboardist/Guitar player Paul Moak, Drummer Sean Lane and Bassisst Tony Lucido make their way on stage. The fans begin to clap along to the rhythm of the percussive intro music and as the momentum builds, Sean Lane starts a four count as Ann Wilson emerges from behind the drum riser in a stunning blue sequence dress to lead the band right into “The Revolution Starts Now”. The first track off the bands new EP Sawheat 8 kicks the show off on a high and upbeat note as the fans clap and sing along.
It was impressive to see that with the record dropping just over a week ago that the fans already had all the lyrics saved to memory as they were eager to lend their singing voices. That would carry over into the bands second song of the night with the darker tones of “Black Wing“. Ann’s vocals are to no one’s surprise strong out of the gate but it was exciting to see her get handed a flute before the start of the song as she is an amazing player.
She would serenade the crowd for a solo which would turn into a friendly battle back and forth with guitarist Tom Bukovac. Afterwards Ann addresses the crowd about being cooped up during quarantine and that “This next song speaks for itself. This is a John Lennon song”. Within just a couple of notes on the piano, the crowd knows it is Lennon’s iconic “Isolation” from 1970’s John Lennon/ Plastic Ono Band.
Ann Wilson’s voice smothers this classic tune with so much soul and warmth that she really takes it to another level. Halfway through the first set we would get our first taste of original Heart music, causing every fan to shoot out of their seats when they realize “Magic Man” was next. This would be the loudest the fans had been up to this point and for obvious reasons. Of course Ann’s iconic vocals would lead the charge on the bands classic track, but Bukovac’s warm crunchy guitar work and Paul Moak’s work on the keys really made this incredibly authentic to the original recording.
Following a stellar rendition of the late Jeff Buckley’s somber blues track “Forget Her“, Paul Moak would lead the band into the last song of the nights first set with The Who’s legendary “Won’t Get Fooled Again“. This song was sonically powerful and packed a punch with every verse but it would be Ann Wilson who would own this song form start to finish with her powerful range and attitude.
After a brief 30 minute intermission, Tom Bukovac would step out under the spotlight as he begins to play a guitar lick made famous by Heart guitarist and Ann’s own littler sister Nancy Wilson. You can feel the momentum starting to gain as the crowd claps along, but when Tom starts that heavy handed strumming it sends the fans into a frenzy.
The entire room had exploded with screams and cheers at the sound of the “Crazy On You” guitar riff. You could see the excitement on the faces of everyone around me and it’s a true testament on the power and legacy of of Heart’s music. It’s pretty amazing to watch grown adults get transformed into teenagers again as they completely loose themselves in the music.
Over the next three songs Ann Wilson and the Amazin’ Dawgs would serve up Heart hits like “City’s Burning“, “Love of My Life” as well as a moving rendition of Sixx: A.M.’s “Permission”. But the next song of the night would be one that almost brings the roof down. “Dream On” is one of the most recognizable songs ever written and it is by all accounts a vocal masterpiece. If there was a set of lungs and an out of this world vocal range that could one up the great Steven Tyler, it would be none other than Ann Wilson.
Her subtle yet soulful delivery throughout the song was building up until she vocally erupts at the songs climatic end. But before the cheers of approval could fade, the chugging locomotive guitar riff that fuels the legendary “Barracuda” would fill the air in the room.
The sea of clapping hands stretched across the entire floor and not a seat was occupied. The energy was at an all time high as everyone sang along at top volume and definitely gave a little extra to help Ann out with the seductive “Barracuda” line. At the songs conclusion the applause seemed never-ending as the band waved and walked off stage. The blue uplighting on the dark stage was a good indicator there was more to come and luckily for all of us, the signs were right.
With the band returning to the stage the praise from the fans only grew louder. Drummer Sean Lane would get to coral their clapping to the rhythm on his high hat and kick drum as bassist Tony Lucido plucks away behind the fanning red lighting. Fans know instantly that “Straight On” off 1978’s Dog and Butterfly is next on the docket. The funky toned sonnet had a large portion of the crowd dancing with their significant others with smiles on their faces.
Before anyone could stop cutting a rug, Ann and company would slid right into a deep cut Led Zeppelin song that you don’t hear too often. “The Crunge” is a hidden gem off of Houses of the Holy and Ann’s unique approach vocally presented a fresh take while the band gave the music itself a true representation. With the show coming to a close, it would be a single cord on the piano that would get the crowd to deliver its biggest acclamation of the night.
Heart’s power ballad “Alone” put Ann Wilson’s voice on full display as she proved that she had more than enough left in the tank even after an amazing 16 song set. Her effortless vibrato and sheer vocal power did all but lift the roof right off of Hard Rock Live leaving the fans in total awe and dropping a huge exclamation point on just an incredible performance.
It truly was an honor to able to watch one of the best singers in the history of Rock & Roll perform, especially at the level that Ann Wilson does. Whether you’ve seen her on tour in the 70’s, her stunning performance for Led Zeppelin during The Kennedy Center Honors or in 2021 at Hard Rock Live in Orlando, her voice has been spectacular and consistent throughout every turn in her career. Ann surrounded herself with an amazing group of musicians that compliment her perfectly which only elevated the level their performance on the stage.
Ann Wilson and the Amazin’ Dawgs will hit the road again in August for a short tour of the East coast so make sure you grab tickets before they sell out. Head to Annwilson.com to grab your copy of Sawheat 8, merch and tickets to all of Ann’s upcoming shows!