Review / photos: Heart, Jason Bonham revive Led Zeppelin classics at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre
Heart’s debut album Dreamboat Annie, featuring hits Crazy On You and Magic Man, was released in February 1976, about six weeks before Led Zeppelin’s Presence, which included the hit Nobody’s Fault But Mine. They never toured together, but had John Bonham not died in 1980, leading to Led Zeppelin’s dissolution, it might have happened. Ann and Nancy Wilson are staunch LedHeads to this day – when Led Zeppelin were feted at last year’s Kennedy Center Honors, Heart performed a rendition of Stairway to Heaven that brought tears to Robert Plant’s eyes.
That’s why Heart’s new Heartbreaker Tour, which stopped Tuesday at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, is such a great idea. With a little help from Jason (son of John) Bonham, the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees treated more than 5,100 fans one of the most rip-roaring tribute sets Tampa has seen in years, tearing through Zeppelin classics like Kashmir and Stairway to Heaven with, the ferocity of – pardon the pun – a barracuda.
Tuesday’s show was divided into thirds: An opening set by Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, a 14-song Heart set and then a joint Zeppelin set at the end.
“This is a very historical Led Zeppelin place,” Bonham said near the outset, a reference to an rain-shortened, riot-marred 1977 concert at Tampa Stadium. He was there, he said, and over the past couple of decades he’s made a nice career for himself performing his father’s songs – including at a 2007 one-off Led Zeppelin reunion in London.
The LZE’s seven-song, workmanlike set hit all the notes you’d expect on hits like Immigrant Song and Whole Lotta Love, especially singer James Dylan, who’s not much of a showman, but he does a hell of a Robert Plant. The band got a full-body workout on the rollicking Nobody’s Fault But Mine and The Lemon Song and infused Houses of the Holy with Southern, swamp-blues swagger.
On the skins, Bonham did right by his old man, though I must admit, it threw me for a loop when he kicked off When the Levee Breaks – which has arguably the greatest drum intro of all time – with a freaking backing track. What drummer in his right mind doesn’t want to bang out that riff live? But once the shock wore off, I could kind of see where he was coming from. There’s no copying Bonzo’s iconic original; even his son knows that. Best to let it live forever.
Perhaps out of respect for Led Zep’s hard rock legacy, Heart eschewed many of the poppier, synth-driven numbers from their ‘80s and ‘90s catalog, including If Looks Could Kill, Who Will You Run To and Will You Be There (In The Morning).
Throughout the set, Ann Wilson strode about the stage like a prize fighter, stepping to the mic to deliver knockout blows on Barracuda and What About Love. Her show-stopping voice shone as always, while Nancy’s ageless cool and punkish verve drove on a seismic, no-nonsense Macig Man. They dipped deep into their catalog for the infrequently performed Little Queen, a blast of Motown soul and E Street boogie.
Heart stripped down for an acoustic-driven set led by Nancy, who dedicated a cover of Elton John’s I Need You To Turn To to her sister, who turns 63 on Wednesday. Heart’s ‘80s-tastic These Dreams made an appearance here, as did Alone, which was stripped to its core – a keyboard, a mandolin and Ann’s chandelier-shattering wail.
And then came the encore. Led Zeppelin covers have been part of the Heart experience for the entirety of the band’s run; “We probably know like 20 of them,” Nancy Wilson recently told Spinner. It’s a natural fit, as Ann’s unnatural wail bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Robert Plant.
The sisters opened with an acoustic The Battle of Evermore, with their guitars and voices dancing in harmony. Then Bonham and the rest of Heart came out for a series of classics, including The Song Remains the Same; and a pair of devastating haymakers – The Ocean and Kashmir, whose monumental riffs tumbled throughout the shed.
For the closer, there was only one option: Stairway to Heaven. And with Led Zeppelin no longer performing live, let it be known that Heart’s is now the world’s official, definitive version (besides, y’know, the original). From the delicate opening notes, plucked by Nancy on an acoustic guitar with Bonham in the background urging fans to sing along; through a rousing crescendo that crested with a gospel choir backing Ann's operatic howl … it was awe-inspiring.
At six songs, the Zeppelin set felt a tad too short, and it was impossible not to think of all the optionss Heart left on the table. Communication Breakdown, for example, is already a pretty close cousin of Crazy On You and Barracuda, and you just know Ann would crush What Is and What Should Never Be.
But hoping for more would be asking too much. It’s enough that Heart and Jason Bonham are doing what they can to breathe life into Led Zeppelin’s catalog. Until the reunion tour – we still have hope! – we’ll take this pairing any day.
-- Jay Cridlin