Near the end of her set at the Parker Playhouse on Thursday, June 8, Ann Wilson will bring one of the great voices in rock ’n’ roll history to bear on an iconic cover that is now shaded by a new set of emotions, the Who’s glorious cri de coeur “Love, Reign O’er Me.”
When Wilson kicked off the tour in her hometown of Seattle in March, Pete Townshend’s “Quadrophenia” closer was just one of several favorites she would scatter among the Heart classics that put her and sister Nancy into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with “Barracuda,” “Crazy on You” and “What About Love” interspersed with Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” Yes’ “I've Seen All Good People,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It's Worth” and the Aretha Franklin classic “Ain’t No Way.”
“Love, Reign,” with “Quadrophenia” protagonist Jimmy, in a suicidal crisis and seeking spiritual redemption in the pouring rain, has always resonated with Wilson. The 66-year-old singer admits that she is in a big-picture frame of mind on this solo tour, which began amid ongoing legal proceedings after Ann’s husband was charged and later pleaded guilty in an assault involving Nancy’s teenage sons.
“I want to spend my voice and my breath and my strength singing songs that have a message,” Wilson says from her tour bus as it rolls through rural Kentucky. “I’m not really satisfied standing up there talking about fluffy things. I’ve done that for so many years. Not all Heart songs are fluffy, but there’s a large percentage of ‘I love you, you love me, oh how happy we can be’-type songs, and I want to do more.”
Wilson’s version of “Love, Reign” acquired more personal significance on May 18 with the death of Seattle-born rock singer Chris Cornell, whose herculean vocals fueled two of the most powerful bands of the grunge era in Soundgarden and Audioslave. Law enforcement authorities ruled Cornell’s death a suicide.
As a rising force on the influential Seattle music scene, Cornell was among the performers who would drop in on house parties hosted by the Wilson sisters in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Wilson says that from the beginning Cornell had “that unnameable ‘it’ ” as a performer and storyteller who could deliver his message with both power and clarity. At the same time, there was a vulnerability to him, that echoes through “Love, Reign,” Wilson says.
“That song has always been really meaningful for me with or without anyone’s passing. It’s totally about looking for God, I think. It’s somebody raising their hands up and just pleading for understanding. Metaphorically you could say that’s where Chris was,” Wilson says.
“He was super honest. He was very vulnerable. He felt everything. He sensed things,” she says. “He just got fed up with the futility. … He gave what he could give.”
The show Wilson is bringing to Parker Playhouse runs two hours with an intermission, with the singer joined by longtime Heart guitarist Craig Bartock (who also performed in her solo project, the Ann Wilson Thing), Denny Fongheiser (who played with Heart in the 1990s), bassist Andy Stoller (the Ann Wilson Thing) and keyboardist Dan Walker. Each song is accompanied by a new video short.
If the show also brings with it a “life is short” theme, Wilson is tentative but not unwilling to discuss the possibility she and Nancy will be able to overcome the raw emotions that have divided them to allow for a future Heart tour. At least, she won’t rule it out.
“We’re going to be sisters long after there’s been a musical career. I don’t imagine that any kind of musical difference like what we’re having now will really matter in the grand scheme,” she says.
“We don’t have any plans for [a tour] in our minds right now. We don’t want a deadline. We’re just each doing our own thing right now and having a blast,” Wilson says. “It’s never going to be like it was before. Heart is always evolving. It’ll be something new. If it’s Heart, it’ll be something new, for sure.”
Ann Wilson will perform 8 p.m. Thursday, June 8, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $47.50-$97.50. Call 954-462-0222 or go to ParkerPlayhouse.com.