Three recent Rock & Roll HOF inductees bring their rockin’ A-game to a sizzling summer triple bill.
By Steve Houk
If there was anything to come away with from last weekend’s Heart/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/Cheap Trick triple bill out at Jiffy Lube Live (other than they raised the damn beer prices again), it’s that the heart of rock and roll is still alive and well and beating hard in three bands who were all FM radio darlings of the 70’s and 80’s. One thing that connects them is they were all recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (Heart in 2013, and the other two last year), thus the cute “Rock Hall Three For All” label on the tour.
But the more deep-seeded connection is that when all is said and done, when these bands are long gone, they’ll say that all three always delivered damn good rock and roll music. They may have different modes of delivery for said R & R, but this common thread was never more evident on this balmy yet comfortable late summer evening. From the first chords of Cheap Trick’s opening song “Hello There” (“Hello there ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rock?“) to the last notes of Heart’s epic cover of the rock-anthem-to-beat-all-rock anthems, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” good ol’ rock and roll was the name of the game on this night, and all three bands came, saw and conquered because they fell right into the rock and roll wheelhouse that has kept each of them going for decades.
If anyone has a standard rock and roll type repertoire, it’s opener Cheap Trick, and their set was rife with classic rock riffs, lyrics and postures. Amidst a couple of their 80’s power ballads like “Tonight It’s You” and “The Flame” and a cool Velvet Underground cover, the Illinois-bred band steamed through a short set comprised mostly of true hard rockers, from the short “Hello There” opener to “Baby Loves To Rock” to their live Budokan staple “I Want You To Want Me” to their ode to teen survival, “Surrender.” Between the textbook rock posing (complete with top hat) from lead singer Robin Zander, to the wild guitar God persona of Rick Nielsen, Cheap Trick reminded us why legendary Beatles’ producer George Martin produced one of their early 80’s records: because he knows what good old fashioned rock and roll sounds like. And when these guys really get down to it, even decades in, they can still hang with alot of great rock and roll bands.
As for Joan Jett, she has proudly carried the tattered rock and roll flag ever since her early days with groundbreaking all-girl band The Runaways, and so many shows later, she and her Blackhearts haven’t really missed a beat. Her strong set would have been just as good, or maybe better, in a dark, beer-soaked basement rock club, but it was still cool to see her still get down and dirty even with high-tech screens and high-end lighting blaring around her four-piece rock and roll steam engine. And rock she did, through a swath of her biggest hits, pounding through pump-your-fist tunes like (what else) “I Love Rock and Roll,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” “Do You Wanna Touch” and her popular cover of Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover.” The pinnacle was the Bruce Springsteen-penned “Light Of Day” which roared good and loud amidst clips of the film of the same name that Jett and Michael J. Fox starred in 1987. Jett finally got her just due with her recent HOF induction, but to see her play such a formidable and solid set 40-plus years after her Runaways blasted into the picture was a testimony to her status as a true rocker.
Headlining the night was Heart, and after a long and sometimes meandering career since their heyday, the Wilson sisters and company showed up and delivered an excellent rock and roll power punch to close the night. In a set that also featured 80’s power ditties (“These Dreams”, “Alone” and “What About Love” had women throughout singing aloud), Heart churned more than admirably through some of their biggest radio rockers like “Barracuda,” “Even It Up,” “Magic Man,” and an especially good “Crazy On You” preceded by Nancy’s stellar acoustic intro. Ann’s vocals were even stronger than expected and she impressed throughout the set, and Nancy looked and played as delicious as ever handling her various axes. But their lasting rock and roll brand was never more evident than in the encore, when the world’s greatest Zeppelin cover band rolled an impressive finishing double shot of “Immigrant Song” and “Stairway to Heaven.” Not a bad twofer to end with.
Those Zep tunes were the cherry on top of a highly satisfying hot fudge sundae of classic rock, as these three legendary bands supplied a packed crowd with rock and roll music that even decades later still rattles your teeth and makes you shake your tail feather. And isn’t that exactly what rock and roll is supposed to do?