Sound Scene Express

Heart, Joan Jett and Cheap Trick Provide Rock and Roll Fantasy

w/ Joan Jett
and Cheap Trick
First Niagara Pavilion
July 21, 2016

By Kellie Gormly

It was a triple helping of the ’80s and ’70s on Thursday night at the First Niagara Pavilion, when Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick gave us a marathon of hits.
The Rock and Roll Hall Three for All concert began with Chicago band Cheap Trick, fronted by Robin Sander in his shiny white “Dream Police” suit. In a moment eliciting reactions of “Wait, did that really just happen?”, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto surprised the audience by joining the band on stage and announcing his longtime Cheap Trick fandom. The best moments during this opening set includes the ’80s power ballad “The Flame” and the energetic anthem “I Want You to Want Me.”

Hard rockers Joan Jett and the Blackhearts gave what many would call the best of the three sets. Jett, clad in a metallic red catsuit, still has the voice and the energy and moves of her younger days. The intense rhythm of classics like the signature anthem “I Love Rock and Roll,” “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” and the set-ending “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” Jett and her Blackhearts also did some covers of fellow artist’s music, like Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” Jett connected with the audience both with her music, and her comment that she lived in the Pittsburgh area for a time as a young child.

Heart, fronted by sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson, performed an energetic set list that mixed music from the band’s hard-rock beginnings (like “Crazy on You” and the requisite “Barracuda”),with their mainstream pop days in the ’80s (“These Dreams,” “What About Love” and power ballad “Alone”) and their new music (“Beautiful Broken.”) Ann Wilson still can hit most of the high notes steadily, with extra intensity during the acoustic performance of “Alone.” She and Nancy, moving around the stage with her guitar, accent their rock with headbanging movements. And they ended their entire set with a passionate performance of Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven,” backed by heavenly spiritual images of stained glass.

Even for those sitting under the pavilion, though, the show gave the appearance that the artists were far away from the audience. Normally, cameras get up close and display zoomed-in images of the band performing on big screens, so that people even back in the open lawn can see more than a tiny figure on the stage. For some reason, the band’s did not allow this close-up filming, which lessened the feeling of intimacy with the audience. They showed only backing graphics and images on the screens.