Heart with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and The Mandevilles at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

Photographs by Dawn Hamilton.

The Queens of Sheba tour has been travelling through Canada from the west coast made its second last stop in Toronto last night at a sold out Sony Centre. Featuring a killer double bill in Heart and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the two touring warriors finally joined forces and provided a hard rocking jukebox that went through the ages. Opening the night was The Mandevilles.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts was my first musical obsession.  Her Bad Reputation cassette was my favourite gift in 1981 when I was 9.  Despite my fanatical status back then, I never had the chance to see the Blackhearts live.  Rarely have I seen them do their own headlining show in Toronto, if at all so to say I was excited last night is a gross understatement.  I’m just happy nobody I knew was around to witness, but I know I wasn’t the only one.

The wait was well worth it, although my 9 year-old self probably could have discreetly crowd surfed to the front and danced all night.  Opening with “Bad Reputation”, Jett was on fire from the get-go.  There was no hello, no nothing, just those driving guitars before Jett growled about not caring.  Clad in red leather pants, Jett hasn’t let age slow her down.  She looked and played fantastic and for an hour dished out a number of her garage-rock hits and threw in a couple of tracks from her previous band The Runaways including “Cherry Bomb” which was like a gut punch right after “Bad Reputation”.

The crowd was cold initially but after being prompted to their feet to help with “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” which was my highlight for the night, I only wish it was louder and I was crushed up by the stage.  She offered up a few tracks from her most recent album, 2013’s Unvarnished before casually dropping a venue erupting “I Love Rock N Roll” which had the most jaded yelling out every word. 

Elaborate visuals were shockingly reminiscent of a Chemical Brothers show and really made it an explosion of all sorts of feelings.  Jett herself hasn’t seemed to have aged a day since the 80s and was in good spirits as she introduced her Blackhearts.  They would close their hour with “Crimson and Clover”, “I Hate Myself for Loving You” and a timely cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”.

With over 40 years in the business, Seattle’s Heart have come in and out of fashion like denim, and just as strong and durable.  I was never a fan of the band.  Their 70s heyday I was too young for and I was probably into the exact opposite music during their return to the throne through the 80s and 90s.  But a performance at the Rock Hall of Fame revealed them to be a rocking beast not to be doubted so I went in waiting to get wowed.

It didn’t take long as the band kicked off their 90 minutes with early hit “Magic Man”.  Performing in front of yet another surprisingly elaborate visual show more aligned with Pink Floyd than my expectations.  The Sony Centre’s sound was its usual pristine self and the perfect home for Ann Wilson’s vocals, a hurricane strength force that never failed to impress me over the course of the night.

Nancy Wilson’s guitar playing was spot on and she played with the vivacity of a teenager, their energy and positivity absolutely radiant.  There were a couple of previews from an upcoming album including the title track “Beautiful Broken” and a beautiful Ne-Yo penned “Two” which had all the people around me talking about how impressive a song it was.  

It was all about the hits and Heart sure dished them out.  From the 80s a slowed down “What About Love” and “Alone” along with Nancy’s star turn on “These Days” were highlight while “Barracuda”, “Crazy on You” and “Heartless” were the highlights representing the 70s.

Now given the absolute depth of Heart’s catalogue their encore was a bit baffling to me, only for the song selection which was a trio of Led Zeppelin classics “The Immigrant Song”, “No Quarter” and “Misty Mountain Hop”.  They were great renditions and Ann’s voice really channeled Robert Plant.  If Jimmy Page loses his patience, this is who he should take on the road.  But I thought to end the night with the three tracks was a bit strange.  Nobody was disappointed; including myself, but it was an odd end.

Kicking off the night was two-fifths of Niagara Falls’ The Mandevilles who’s acoustic blues-rock was impressive but could have used the other three parts to fill the sound out and the make more of an impact on the room.  The frontwoman banged about like she was fronting Motorhead so I’d like to see them in the full glory before making final judgement, but nice start.

I hope this tour continues.  The contrast between the two was just enough to make the idea on paper interesting but seeing two acts in the business for decades still play with the joy and spunk of their early days clearly made it obvious why these two should continue to deliver the Queens of Sheba, in warmer climes.

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