Halfway through Joan Jett’s set on Wednesday night at PNC Music Pavilion, Jett’s longtime producer and Blackhearts keyboardist Kenny Laguna shared the story behind the 1983 song “Fake Friends.” None of the labels they shopped it to would sign “a girl playing guitar” at the time, so he and Jett released it independently.
The idea of balking at an act with a female guitarist may seem preposterous now, but there was a time not so long ago — even post Lilith Fair — that three female artists would likely not have toured together. But the pairing of Jett, headliner Heart, and feisty pop-rock upstart Elle King of “Ex’s and Oh’s” fame probably increased the “Love Alive Tour’s” draw.
The audience was filled with suntanned middle-aged women with their girlfriends, moms or husbands, and entire families with young children. No matter their age, they stood and enthusiastically shouted the lyrics through Jett and Heart’s sets.
While most in attendance weren’t on their feet for King’s set, they exploded after her performance of the smash hit “Ex’s and Oh’s.” Part Betty Boop (think early Gwen Stefani)/part solid belter, she threw country, rock and soul into her brief set, and added a cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” for the first time this tour.
Jett took the stage promptly at 8 dressed in a skin-tight black jumpsuit bedazzled with silver stars. Only Laguna is from the original lineup, but guitarist Dougie Needles and drummer Michael McDurmott look the part; the former — in punky liberty spikes and tattoos — was the most animated member besides Jett.
They lit up the crowd with the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” following the opener “Victim of Circumstance,” strolling through a full 15-song set of hits and covers in total.
What’s surprising is the number of hits people generally regard as Joan Jett songs, but that are actually covers. Sure, Jett mentioned Bruce Springsteen penned “Light of Day” for the movie she did with Michael J. Fox, and most folks are aware that “Crimson & Clover” was a Tommy James and the Shondelles’ single — but did you know “Do You Wanna Touch Me” and “I Love Rock n’ Roll” originated with Gary Glitter and the Arrows, respectively?
While the latter tracks were huge sing-alongs and the reverb-soaked “Crimson & Clover” provided plenty of atmosphere with the stage bathed in red lights, original hits like “Bad Reputation” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You” were equally fun.
She ended her set with the Replacements’ “Androgynous” and Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”
Likewise, while Heart has plenty of hits to choose from, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson’s headlining set wasn’t anchored to the charts. As they’ve done in years past, the recently reunited group followed its own, um, heart (pardon the pun) by going light on ’80s hits and leaning into covers by artists who influenced them, from Gladys Knight (“I Heard It Through the Grape Vine”) to Simon & Garfunkel (“The Boxer”) to Led Zeppelin (the almost-obligatory rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” kicked off the encore).
A rift between the Wilsons — following a backstage altercation between Ann’s husband and Nancy’s teenage sons — kept them apart and off the road for the last couple of years. But there was nary a wink of animosity, and the crowd surely forgot all about it as Heart emerged with 1980’s psychedelic-tinged “Rockin’ Heaven Down.”
They looked and sounded fantastic, especially considering how long they’ve been doing this. Ann’s voice is still as big, bold and bawdy as ever. She seemed to be almost challenging herself to reach higher notes during the second song, “Magic Man.” If she didn’t capture one fully, she’d belt a little harder.
Heart’s set was a bit more chill than Jett’s, as Nancy took the lead vocals on “These Dreams,” which was sandwiched between the acoustic “Boxer” and “Dog & Butterfly.” They began to rock a bit harder later in the set, hitting on ’80s hits “What About Love” and “Alone,” “Mistral Wind,” the set-closer “Crazy on You,” and the obligatory “Barracuda” during the encore.
If you were close enough to the stage, you could tell that neither woman looked anywhere near their ages. Sixty-nine-year-old Ann’s black blouse spilled over her skirt and bright purple tights, and her hair was held up with a bright blue scarf. Nancy, 65 — with her long, flowing blonde hair — wore a psychedelic jumpsuit that showed off her legs in sheer tights.
But the giant screens that flank the stage told a different story. On screen, Jett, who is 60, looked 10 years older, while Ann Wilson’s face appeared bright red instead of the milky white that shone on stage; both women appeared to be covered in freckles. Eyes may play tricks, but I’d say the venue needs to adjust the color or invest in new screens.
The performers did not appear splotchy on the smaller televisions broadcasting the feed from the stage at the snack bars.