What are some of your earliest music memories?
Mine include listening to Ike & Tina’s take on “Proud Mary” on my parents’ stereo, borrowing Monkees records out of my town library and listening to the Heart eight-track “Little Queen” in my brother Joe’s room.
What I remember most was being mesmerized by the tracks “Barracuda” and “Kick It Out.” I had never heard a voice like Ann Wilson’s, and to this day, both songs still make me smile and completely rock out. As I write this, I’m listening to Heart and am remembering mini-me thinking it was the coolest band on the planet.
Fast-forward to 1999, when I saw the film haunting film “The Virgin Suicides” in the theater. The film has an incredible soundtrack, and it made me re-discover the Heart song “Magic Man,” which is from its 1975 debut album, “Dreamboat Annie.”
The song is five and a half minutes of rock perfection, with Nancy Wilson’s guitar and Ann’s thundering vocals.
Now, fast-forward to about a month ago, when I saw the Swedish sister act First Aid Kit in Boston. The duo absolutely crushed Heart’s “Crazy on You,” and it reminded me of what a potent song that is.
The point is, Heart is a legendary band, and the voice behind its storied success will be in Portland on Friday night. Ann Wilson will be performing Heart songs and ones from her solo career. Rest assured, Wilson’s still got those superstar pipes.
Some of the set will include a couple of songs from her forthcoming album, “Songs for the Living: Vol. 1,” which is a collection of songs paying homage to musicians the world has lost in recent years. Artists covered on it include Leonard Cohen, Amy Winehouse, Chris Cornell and David Bowie.
I reached Wilson, 67, via telephone to talk about the “Songs” album, among other topics, including where she’s living these days. Turns out she moved to Florida about a year ago, though she referred to it mostly as a place to drop things; she spends a lot of time on the road touring.
As for the “Songs” album, Wilson said it’s slated for an early-July release. After confessing my love for Bowie, I asked Wilson if she would divulge which one of his songs she’s covering, and the answer came as a surprise. I expected it to be something from the ’70s, like maybe “Moonage Daydream” or “Rebel Rebel.” In fact, it’s “I’m Afraid of Americans,” from Bowie’s 1997 “Earthling” album. The refrain of the song is “I’m Afraid of Americans/I’m afraid of the world/I’m afraid I can’t help it/I’m afraid I can’t.”
When asked why she chose that one, Wilson said it fit in with the theme of the record. “All the songs I chose I wanted to be relevant to the times as much as possible, and that just stood out to me as being one that may as well of been written yesterday morning.”
I asked how she’d introduce the song, and Wilson said she likely would not be doing the Bowie number in Maine. “I’ve been asked by the record company not to do all the songs quite yet, until the release, because people have their phones up in the air at shows.” She added, though, that she and her band will be doing a few of the new ones. “We’re trying to keep somewhat of a life on it until the release.”
This prompted me to ask about musician Jack White’s new policy of zero tolerance of phones at his shows and whether she thought it was over the top or if she understands where he’s coming from. “I appreciate that he would speak out about it, but I don’t know if you can put the genie back in the bottle,” Wilson said. “People will sneak if they want to get a picture of you while you’re playing on stage. They just will.”
This is a source of huge frustration to Wilson because she sees the use of phones as a huge distraction that detracts from the audience’s experience. “They’re not listening, they’re texting or they’re just bent over their phones,” she said. “They don’t even pretend like they’re paying attention.” Wilson wishes people would be 100 percent present during her shows. “They pay all this money and go through all this waiting in line, and they just can’t put it away for an hour and a half.”
Smartphone angst aside, I asked Wilson about the difference between touring in, maybe, 1978 versus now, and she said it was a lot like it is now – plus a private plane. “Back then, we had started flying around in a King Air, and you can really do a lot of shows if you have a private plane.” These days, she typically travels via tour bus, and the hundreds of miles between shows is exhausting. But it was a different story in the ’80s, which Wilson said was Heart’s most commercially successful time. “We were flying around in a jet and staying in the best hotels and had that big, high-end rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle going.”
I wondered what it’s like for Wilson to be on the receiving end of raucous audience response to classic Heart songs, and she was quick to say that it’s a great feeling. “For instance, we have the song ‘Crazy on You’ in the set now, which I do in a different way. I do it in a much more sort of bluesy way, so you can really hear the lyrics more, and people really get excited about that.” Wilson says it’s especially enjoyable because that’s her favorite Heart song. Come to think of it, it’s mine too.
8:30 p.m. Friday. Aura, 121 Center St., Portland, $49.50, 18-plus. auramaine.com