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Blu-ray Music Review: Heart – Night At Sky Church

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Night At Sky Church (Blu-ray) is now the fifth Heart concert video that I have reviewed, so it is quite obvious that I am a big fan of this veteran classic rock band. They won me over the first time I heard Nancy Wilson’s incredible opening acoustic-guitar salvo to “Crazy On You,” when it first hit the airwaves nearly 35 years ago. Let that one sink in for a minute, Heart fans…35 years ago! And more than three decades later, the Wilson sisters, et al, are still putting out some great new music, most recently 2010’s Red Velvet Car, and I can also attest that they are still kicking ass on the concert stage.

Night At Sky Church captures the band performing a career-spanning set at the Sky Church music hall at Seattle’s Experience Music Project venue on March 5th, 2010. Sky Church is one hell of a unique looking music venue, as it features a 70-foot ceiling and the world’s largest indoor video screen. The oddly shaped venue looks rather small, appearing to only hold about 1,000 people, at best, but the standing-room-only crowd gets one hell of an amazing view of the band. The stage is certainly plenty big enough, the light show is dazzling, and the towering video screen, which takes up the entire back wall of the venue, is overwhelming.

Heart wastes no time whipping the hometown crowd into a frenzy via one of their heaviest and most beloved songs, “Barracuda.” The Wilson sisters have maintained the same supporting cast since 2004’s Jupiter’s Darling, with the exception of Kristian Attard taking over the bass duties in 2009. Ben Smith is as impressive as ever on drums, while Craig Bartock (guitar) and Debbie Shair (keyboards) round out the rest of the lineup. I was glad to see the band play five songs from their new album, since you can already see all of their classic tracks performed on their other recent DVDs. They do, of course, still break out plenty of the essential classics, including “Straight On,” “Love Alive,” “Crazy On You” and “Magic Man,” for starts.

I also really enjoy the organic arrangements that Heart has given their slick ’80’s hits like “Never,” “Alone,” and “What About Love,” in recent years. They are now more stripped-down, acoustic-guitar-driven affairs, with Ann’s amazing vocals shining through brightly. The new songs also sound like they could have been recorded back in the ’70s. Midway through the set they break out four tracks from Red Velvet Car, starting off with the heavy riff-rocker “WTF,” before bringing things down a notch with the buoyant “Hey You,” which features Nancy on lead vocals and autoharp and Red Velvet Car producer Ben Mink on acoustic guitar.

At this point Ann welcomes bluegrass goddess Alison Krauss to the stage to lend her magic to the next few songs. Mink also remains to lend some more acoustic guitar and/or fiddle. To start things off, Nancy graciously allows Alison to deliver the lead vocals on “These Dreams,” and to say that she makes it her own would be an understatement. After another excellent new track, “Safronia’s Mark,” which features Alison on fiddle, Heart backs her on her own song, “Your Long Journey,” from her recent hit album with Robert Plant. Hearing Ann and Alison, arguably two of the best female vocalists in the business, duet on this track is nearly worth the price of the DVD alone.

They close out the main set with the still mesmerizing “Crazy On You,” which finds Nancy taking some improvisational liberties with her acoustic guitar intro that may include a Led Zeppelin lick or two. The encore set features the Lovemongers’ track, “Sand,” which was recently redone on Red Velvet Car, before closing the show with one of my all-time favorite Heart rockers, “Magic Man.” I would have loved to see them improvise and rock out more during the middle jam section of the song instead of always just playing it by the book. Not really sure if Craig Bartock is up to the task or not, though, as he plays all this stuff rather safely, and has never really done anything to make me say “wow.” Then again, he has never been given a particularly up-front guitar mix on any of the DVDs, compared to when I saw them in concert and the guitars were blazing.

Technically speaking, there is not much to complain about with this Blu-ray disc. The concert was filmed with multiple HD cameras, the image quality is crystal clear, and the resolution is pristine. DTS Master Audio 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and PCM 2.0 Stereo audio tracks are included and they all sound excellent. My only minor quibble is that Bartock’s guitar could have been turned up a bit more in the mix. The camera work is very good, offering a variety of unique angles, as well as tastefully incorporating a few split screens and superimposed images, without letting them become too cheesy or distracting.

The only bonus features are two extra tracks that were performed in the show, “Back To Avalon” and “Kick It Out.” It is beyond me why they were not just included in the main feature. Makes no sense really. I do know that “Kick It Out” turned out to be one of the performance highlights.

Night At Sky Church is yet another excellent concert film from the Heart camp. It’s amazing to realize how powerful the Wilson sisters still sound, considering that Ann is 60 years old, and baby sister Nancy is only a few years behind. As good as they have sounded on all of their recent concert DVDs, though, I have yet to come across one that really captures what it is like to see them live.

Check them out live this summer opening for Def Leppard to find out for yourself.

Track List:
01. Barracuda
02. Never
03. Straight On
04. Love Alive
05. Mistral Wind
06. WTF
07. Hey You
08. Red Velvet Car
09. These Dreams
10. Safronia s Mark
11. Your Long Journey
12. What About Love
13. Alone
14. Crazy On You
Encore:
15. Sand
16. Magic Man
Bonus Tracks:
17. Back To Avalon
18. Kick It Out

Ratings:
Performance – 8/10
Production – 9/10

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