During the 70’s and 80’s I attended hundreds of rock concerts and saw most every famous and not-so-famous band that toured throughout those decades. Most were really fun, some were memorable even, but only one stands out as truly epic. Even now, over 40 years later, I recall the event vividly and thought I should memorialize it here before it is completely lost from human memory.
It was 1975 when a friend and I went to see Jefferson Starship in concert at the sports arena in Milwaukee. Starship (see here) was still popular enough at that time to pack such a large venue. As the crowds were slowly meandering in and taking their seats, the preliminary band began to play. Of course audiences are conditioned to largely ignore these startup bands, but this band could not be ignored. It didn’t take long for the chattering to die down and for people to hurry to their seats.
Only few songs in, people began to stand, dance, and clap uncontrollably. The lead singer was a stunning girl with long-black hair whose voice thundered like the gods. Next to her was a quiet blonde with equally long hair masterfully plucking her guitar with cool confidence. A young guy was handling his lead guitar with the bravado of a superstar, swinging his arm across the strings with wild abandon. Bass and drums were equally well-manned with boundless energy.
It was probably three quarters of the way through their stunning performance, that I fumbled through my pockets to find my ticket stub. I had to know who this band was. Squinting to find a name on the torn paper under sporadic flashes of colored light, I finally caught one word. It said simply “Heart.”
Yes, the largely unknown prelim band was none other than Heart (see here) introducing new songs from Dreamboat Annie (see here) that would soon be blasting non-stop from transistor radios and car speakers all across the nation.
When their set ended, the crowd was on their feet roaring with excitement. I have never seen a preliminary band, even in a major double-bill, work an audience into such a frenzy. The applause continued on long after they stepped off stage with people begging for an encore, even though no opening band would ever do that.
The story doesn’t end there. After a long wait, Starship finally came out. Their performance was tired and unenthusiastic. The audience, especially after being pumped up by Heart, needed far more then they could offer. People started to tune out and talk among themselves. Their response died down to scattered pity-applause.
At one point, some bored and impatient people started calling out “White Rabbit, White Rabbit” which was one of their biggest early hits. Rather than take the opportunity to reclaim their audience, lead singer Grace Slick sneeringly told the crowds “we don’t want to do that old shit anymore.”
With that, the audience had enough of their Starship ride. Almost as one they joined in a defiant new chant. “Heart, Heart, Heart” they demanded, over and over, “Heart, Heart, Heart.” It was a crushing rebuke of the legendary Starship and an unprecedented anointment of the young breakout band. I don’t know how long after that night Heart continued to open for them, but I cannot imagine how that magnitude of upstaging could be tolerated by Starship.
That was the epic night that the Starship crashed and burned in Milwaukee, and a shining new star took their place in the music cosmos.
Heart, we’re still Crazy on You.