Smile Politely

Ann Wilson brings her legacy of rock n’ roll to the Virginia

This is a photo realistic image of a singer on stage. The singer is wearing a black jacket with a purple shirt underneath. They are standing in front of a drum set and a microphone. The background consists of a stage with purple lighting and a large screen with a face on it.
Photo courtesy of Ann Wilson

On Thursday night, the legendary Ann Wilson of Heart made an impressive stop at the Virginia Theater in Champaign with her backing band, Tripsitter.

The performance was Wilson’s first stop in Champaign since 1987’s Heart performance at Assembly Hall. The band has only performed in the area twice, the first being in 1978.

Apart from the lack of classic Heart members Nancy Wilson, Roger Fisher, and Steve Fossen, attendees who made it to both shows probably couldn’t tell much of a difference despite over 40 years between the first Heart show in town, and the present.

Wilson, at 73 years of age, still has her virtually-untouched signature voice which helped propel Heart to success in the mid-70s. There was almost no note she couldn’t reach with her signature warm, yet fierce, vocals, transporting fans back to the rockin’ ’70s, and delivering an absolutely sublime performance.

Greeted by perhaps one of the loudest ‘Welcome’ cheers the Virginia Theater has ever heard, Wilson and her band launched into the Heart classic “Even It Up”, which proved to be a crowd-pleaser. The show consisted of two sets, with a half-hour intermission between – with Wilson giving it 110%. You can hardly blame her for needing to recharge.

Wilson’s sets both featured new solo songs which often followed a path of storytelling told with a folk-inspired sound. She prefaced many songs, which most fans at the show probably weren’t familiar with, with stories of how they were written, before launching into the well-received tunes. Several songs also featured impressive, whimsical flute solos which Wilson herself played.

This is a black and white photo of a person singing into a microphone on a stage. The person’s face is blurred out to protect their privacy. They are wearing a black jacket and a necklace. The microphone is on a stand and the person is holding it with their right hand.
Photo Courtesy of Ann Wilson

Sprinkled into the solo-heavy sets were both iconic Heart classics and covers. The band broke into faithful, with a touch of originality through solos and personal touches, covers of John Lennon’s “Isolation”, Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and “Going to California” (showing more of Wilson’s love for Zeppelin, reminiscent of her stellar performance at the Kennedy Center Honors), and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. 

Fans of Wilson’s work should give her solo work a chance, because her performance showed she has still got it, both vocally and as a songwriter. These songs seemed well received by the room, but the highlights had to be the Heart classics. The audience went crazy as the guitars squealed into 1975’s hit “Magic Man”, followed by true-to-the-recording vocals by Wilson. Other Heart hits “Crazy on You”, “Straight On”, “Alone”, and “Barracuda” were scattered through the set, and had the crowd dancing and singing along with Wilson.

Not to be forgotten, were Wilson’s backing musicians in Tripsitter, whom Wilson called “The most talented group of musicians I’ve ever worked with”. The four men: guitarists Ryan Wariner & Paul Moak, bassist Tony Lucido, and drummer Sean Lane brought fervor and intensity to each song of the night, with enough talent to both perform faithful renditions of Heart anthems and to add their signature touches to tunes, both old and new. With your eyes closed, you may not even be able to tell you weren’t listening to Heart.

This is a photo of a rock band performing on a stage. The stage is lit with blue and purple lights. The band members are playing guitar, bass, drums, and singing. hey are wearing black clothing and one member is wearing a kilt. The background consists of a curtain and stage lights.
Photo courtesy of Ann Wilson

While Wilson wasn’t as lively onstage as many other front persons are, she captivated and mesmerized the fans with her soaring vocals and powerful stage presence, and left the stage to a standing ovation from lifelong rock n’ roll fans.

As the sisters of Heart continue to work on separate projects rather than under the Heart moniker, and while we can hope to see them onstage together again soon, that doesn’t minimize the incredible show Wilson & Tripsitter is performing every night across the country. 

Make sure to catch the legendary Wilson while you can, for a show you won’t want to miss! The tour travels through the Midwest in August, the East Coast, and the South in September, and concludes on the West Coast with a hometown show for Wilson in Seattle on Oct. 16. You’ll be glad you did.

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