“Ooh. Barra-cooo-da,” wailed Ann Wilson, an upward inflection on that razor sharp “cooo” sticking like a switchblade on a sticky bar top.
Meanwhile, her sister Nancy Wilson hammered that unmistakable galloping riff, with two other ace guitarists chugging along in unison like three well-oiled pistons powering Heart’s motoring classic, “Barracuda.” As if closing this two-hour joy ride through the Northwest rock greats’ 40-plus-year career — with many scenic detours — with anything else were a serious option. The on-their-feet Tacoma Dome crowd erupted in appreciation after the final downhill churn.
The Seattle-grown rock heroes’ Love Alive tour barreled through Tacoma Dome on Wednesday, marking the Wilson sisters’ first tour together in three years. Family tension put Heart on the shelf after Ann Wilson’s husband, Dean Wetter, allegedly assaulted Nancy Wilson’s then 16-year-old twin sons backstage during a 2016 White River Amphitheatre concert. Wetter eventually pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal that spared him jail time.
There would be no overtly sentimental show of harmony Wednesday on the curtain-lined stage, done up like an elegant ballroom. Really, one of the only gratuitous displays of affection came from a canoodling couple in the crowd during the band’s potent (and more popularized) spin on Toronto’s “What About Love,” which made Tacoma Dome feel like a cozy, glitzy (given the ballroom motif) karaoke bar, listening to someone with way better pipes than your co-worker. If only Tacoma Dome brass would’ve sprung for personal fog machines under each of those roomy new seats it would’ve been ’80s nostalgia heaven.
“Yep, it’s us,” Ann Wilson said with a chuckle after a bewitched “Magic Man” early on. It was the only real acknowledgment of the temporary split, unless we’re to read into their intro music choice of The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You.”
As a whole, the Love Alive tour has been a comeback roar, boosted by a rotating cast of equally powerful women rockers in support, including Brandi Carlile and Sheryl Crow on select dates. Wednesday night featured Southern fried vocal dynamo Elle King and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the latter making for a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer two-for-one. Like Heart, Joan Jett helped kick down the door for women in the hard rock world, and the rock icon hasn’t lost her edge. We half expected the rock ‘n’ roll renegade to unfurl a pack of Reds from her sleeve after an attitude-drenched “Cherry Bomb” lit up the crowd.
After knocking out her classic “Bad Reputation” early on, a late run through a raucous “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” cellphone-lit singalong “Crimson and Clover” and a sauntering “I Hate Myself for Loving You” was a clear high. Jett’s gleaming take on The Replacements’ pro-LGBTQ-love power pop bop “Androgynous” was icing on the whiskey soaked cake.
It was an evening full of choice covers, something Heart’s been known for over the years. Despite no shortage of their own material to cull from, roughly half their set was made up of cover songs, including a Nancy Wilson-led rendition of Simon & Garfunkel classic “The Boxer” dedicated to Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, who was apparently in the house. From the prog pop of Yes’ “Your Move” to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which strutted into Heart’s own disco-funked “Straight On,” the freewheeling selection of covers made for a bit of a family jam feel, despite the Wilsons overhauling their backing band for this tour.
Ann Wilson’s voice is still in stunning form, her no-bull melisma and zero-to-60 highs impeccably sharp, but carrying an underlying resonance like a less shrill Robert Plant. As ’70s-esque red-and-blue lasers danced on the ceiling, the powerhouse vocalist hit another level during a chilling “Mistral Wind” — her unshakable belting filling every cranny of the arena, from the peak of the dome to the farthest bathroom stall.
Though not a huge detriment, “Dreamboat Annie” was a conspicuous omission over a set that covered a lot of ground, with the thunder-crashing “Crazy on You” oozing ’70s rawk swagger, while big-hair-era power ballad “These Dreams” — with disco balls glimmering on stage — turned the dome into an ’80s prom (but with legally served beer).
Heart’s decades-spanning career has sustained greater peaks and valleys than Ann Wilson’s darting vocal phrasing, making them one of rock’s great enduring acts. With the Wilson sisters back together again, that legacy remains intact.