|DVD REVIEW: Heart – ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’ (Eagle Rock Entertainment)|
|Written by Mark Ashby|
|Sunday, 08 January 2017 04:00|
Last summer, Heart made a very long overdue return to the UK’s shores. It was a slightly unusual tour, not least in the choice of venues: the band chose to play auditoria more renowned for the presentation of classical music than rock n roll – Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, for example, or Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, to where myself and The Dark Queen made our own pilgrimage for what turned out to be one of our mutual gigs of the year. Another aspect of the shows was the fact they forsook the traditional wall-to-wall Marshall stacks for the most basic, stripped down of backlines, taking everything back to its roots before the need for needless spectacle took over.
The undoubted highlight of the tour most definitely was the band’s stop off at the iconic Royal Albert Hall, where they added to the sense of occasion by teaming up with the venue’s “house band”, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, to help add a slightly different interpretation of some of their massive repertoire. And, quite aptly, it is this show that has now, just six months later, been given the full video release treatment, being made available on all possible formats to allow you to either recall what you witnessed first-hand or experience what you kicked yourself for missing…
What strikes you immediately – as it did for us in Glasgow – is the virtual intimacy of the experience. Despite the size of the historic Kensington venue (and it’s deservedly rammed to its 5,300 capacity rafters for this one-off event) it really does feel like you’re up close and personal with the band: this is mostly attributable to the stunning camera work, which is never intrusive but gets you so close to the action you can see the moisture exploding off Ben Smith’s snare drum. Admittedly, some of the camera angles – especially those shot from the crowd – are a bit dodgy, but they add to their own value to the atmosphere of the experience.
The second major impression is how sparsely they actually use the orchestra. Unlike a lot of these bands-meet-orchestra collaborations, the latter does not overpower the former, or vice versa, but it is a truly homogenous interaction. In fact, the Royal Philharmonic does not even come into play until the second song in, taking their places in the background during the introductory part of ‘Heaven’ before blending into the song’s mystical incantation. They leave the stage again two-thirds of the way through the show, allowing the band to rock out for the closing section of the show and get the audience out of their seats and dancing in the aisles.
The set list more or less reflected that from the rest of the tour, with the band running through their extensive catalogue – as Ann Wilson asks “hey, what’s a few decades between friends” – from the lush ‘Dreamboat Annie’ to the hard-hitting punchiness of ‘Beautiful Broken’ (sans James Hetfield unfortunately – now wouldn’t that have added an extra sense of occasion?). It’s on the former that the orchestra first come into their own, both underpinning and uplifting Wilson’s flute in the closing motif with evocative precision.
It’s on the ballads where the orchestra really do play their part. ‘What About Love?’, of course, was recorded with orchestral parts in the background, but here the strings really add to the pathos of the song, while also beautifully counterpointing the sweep of the main guitar harmony, which also demonstrates what a great instrumentalist is Craig Bartock, before driving it to a soaring finale. Similarly, ‘These Dreams’ and ‘Alone’ are all the more dramatic for the use of the orchestra, and demonstrates the synergy between both sets of musicians, belying what obviously must have been a severe lack of physical rehearsal together but also showing their mutual professionalism to fit together so naturally and easily to add that extra degree of emotion to these classic tearjerkers before the RPO take their bow and leave the band to the more straightforward rock ‘n’ roll latter part of proceedings.
Another of the set’s highlights comes during the first of the two encores, in the form of a superb cover of Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’. Heart, after all, are the band who reduced Robert Plant to tears when they performed a stunning version of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ at the Kennedy Center in December 2012.
All in all, this is a magnificent recapturing of what was undoubtedly an equally magnificent evening. In Glasgow, the band enthralled and enraptured, the performances by not just the Wilson sisters but all six band members, producing goosebumps on goosebumps as they proved they are still, more than 40 years into their career, are still very much at the height of their powers. This DVD is even more proof, if any were needed, of that fact.