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"Change of Heart" Hometown Band Back on Stage, Unplugged


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Change Of Heart -- Hometown Band Back On Stage, Unplugged

By Tom Phalen

Concert preview


Heart at The Backstage in Ballard, tonight through Tuesday. Sold out.


The Backstage in Ballard has been closed to the public for band rehearsals since the end of July, and its interior has been done over in what one crew member refers to as "red velour and Hefty bag."

The walls are covered with black plastic, and empty gold-leaf picture frames hang everywhere along with the crayon renderings of children. There are lava lamps on the mixing board, life-size cutouts of public figures stationed about the venue and the dressing room - which usually looks like the receiving end of a laundry chute - is tastefully adorned with tapestries and illuminated in warm orange light.

Heart - sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, Howard Leese, Fernando Saunders and Denny Fongheiser - along with ex-Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, local singer Kristen Barry and a slew of assistants, seamstresses, cooks and kids, have come to rehearse, perform and record an acoustic album. And they've supplied their own ambience in a club that, by its own admission, has none.

Zeppelin connection

It's somewhat ironic for one of Seattle's longest enduring home-grown acts. When Heart was playing clubs here and in Canada in the early '70s, it often was referred to as "Little Zep" for covering Led Zeppelin songs. After all, who could go throat to throat and note for note with the young Robert Plant better than Ann Wilson? Now Zeppelin's John Paul Jones is not only producing the new Heart effort, he's arranging and playing bass, piano and mandolin.

"It's really amazing that we got him right off the bat," Ann Wilson says during a break. "When we first started talking about doing a live album with (Capitol Records president) Gary Gersh, he said we needed a producer. We agreed, but we wanted a musician producer. We made a list and John Paul was our first choice. But his people said, `No way, he'd never do that.' Then John Paul heard about the idea and he said, `Wait a minute, yes I would!' It was a real vote of confidence."

Daily rehearsals for the Heart recording/concerts began July 31. Jones brought in a four-piece string section and oboe player from the Seattle Symphony. It might have been an occasion for chaos, but the additional players and Jones' charts clicked from the first run-through. The strings lend old chestnuts like "Dog and Butterfly" a warmth and feeling of renewal. Nancy Wilson says that as they went through their song list, they discovered what worked and what didn't.

"Everything becomes different when you do it acoustic," says the younger sister. "It took us the better part of a week to learn the `touch' on `Barracuda' because we're just used to bashing it. We also added some new covers like `Love Hurts.' I know Cher kind of covered it a while back, but I said, `Oh, who cares. We'll just do it better.' It really works for Ann's voice. And John Paul has me doing Bill Withers' `Lean On Me,' which is a song I've always loved."

New sound, new excitement

Both Wilsons say that incorporating more acoustic music in Heart was something they long wanted to do, especially after the success they had with their side group, The Lovemongers. Heart's last album, "Desire Walk On," didn't come out quite like they wanted, and they've been looking for other directions. This turn has come along like magic, and it feels and sounds it.

The excitement appears to be shared by fans: Tickets for the five Backstage shows went on sale July 9 and were gone in eight minutes.

"I wasn't expecting that at all," says Ann quietly. "I mean music has changed so much and our last album kind of was a commercial tank, and frankly, I didn't really know what Heart means here anymore, even though this is our hometown. That doesn't necessarily have to count for a whole hell of a lot. If people don't like you, they won't like you in your hometown, either. So, it was really great that we had that kind of response. It was really gratifying.

"I mean, it was like `Welcome home.' "

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Thanks for digging up that article. Personally I think it's a travesty that their version of "Lean On Me" wasn't included on the album.

Hopefully someday they'll re-release the album with bonus tracks, including "Lean On Me" and their version of "What Is And What Should Never Be".

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