When it comes to affairs of the Heart, Ann and Nancy Wilson make no bones about their affection for Led Zeppelin. It’s rock admiration, dating back to Heart’s early days as a cover band, at its purest—and not to be confused with the kind of affair proposed by Eddie and Alex Van Halen, who once invited Ann and Nancy to participate in a twisted brothers-on-sisters ménage à quatre (the Wilson women declined, as chronicled in their 2012 book Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll.)
Back in the mid-1970s, when the sisters were making a name for themselves on the Vancouver club circuit, Heart would perform entire sets of Zeppelin songs. As the band’s own career hit various peaks and valleys, Heart continued to pay homage to Plant, Page, et al with concert staples like “Battle of Evermore.” And last year, during a tribute to Zeppelin at the Kennedy Center Honors, Ann and Nancy brought the house down—and moved Robert Plant to tears—with a soaring, full-orchestra rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” that, to date, has drawn nearly 6 million YouTube views.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Heart would spend the summer getting the Led out with Jason Bonham—son of late Zep drummer John Bonham—on its “Heartbreaker Tour.” What may have surprised some Monday night at a jam-packed Cruzan Amphitheater in West Palm, where Heart and Bonham kicked off the tour, is just how torrid this affair can be.
The show opened with Bonham’s four-piece band doing serious justice to eight songs from the catalog on which his father earned the reputation as one of rock’s greatest (and loudest) drummers. As dynamic of a percussionist as the son has become, it can’t be easy standing in the shadow of a man who lived, played and died (at age 32) hard. But Jason—who shared the stage with Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones during Zeppelin’s acclaimed 2007 one-off reunion show at London’s O2 Arena—seems more at ease than ever with his place in the family tree.
“This is my way of telling my father, every night, just how great he was,” Bonham said. “And it’s my therapy.”
In the hands of a lesser band, this could have come off as karaoke gone horribly wrong. But Bonham’s “Led Zeppelin Experience,” fronted by James Dylan (who earns a solid 7.5 out of 10 on the Plant “wail” meter), had the crowd roaring from the opening power chords of “Immigrant Song” to the final cymbal crash on “Whole Lotta Love.”
From there, Heart took the stage, delivering 12 songs from a rock résumé that now spans five decades—and throwing in an Elton John deep track (“I Need You To Turn To”) for good measure. If anyone needs reminding why the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, watch Nancy work her acoustic magic on “Crazy on You.” Or listen to Ann Wilson’s soul-stirring version of “Alone,” and tell me if that isn’t one of the four or five greatest voices—man or woman—in rock history. “American Idol” wannabes so smitten by the power of persona could learn a thing or two about simple song interpretation from a woman who, believe it or not, had a stutter as a young girl.
After a short break, the sisters returned to the stage with their band and Bonham for an all-Led encore that pushed the final stats to 14 of 27 songs from the Zeppelin archives. For Zep enthusiasts—and for those, like me, a little miffed at Plant for not turning the one-off into a full-blown reunion—it was a slice of Zoso heaven to hear Heart and Bonham bring “The Rain Song,” “The Ocean” and “Kashmir” to life.
The evening concluded with the crowd in full throat for the version of “Stairway”—including a 10-person chorus—that had Plant misty eyed. Good luck to any band this summer hoping to end on a better note.
You have to hand it to the sisters. At a point in their career when some of their rock brethren from the ’70s and ’80s would be happy playing county fairs, Ann and Nancy Wilson are headlining major venues—and showing us just how enduring rock music can be, especially when you pour your heart into it.
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
I Can’t Quit You Baby
Houses of the Holy
Nobody’s Fault But Mine
When the Levee Breaks
Whole Lotta Love
What About Love
Even It Up
I Need You to Turn To (Elton John song)
Dear Old America
Crazy on You
Heart with Jason Bonham
Battle of Evermore
The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song
Stairway to Heaven