What do you get if you take a pair of players from Prince’s The New Power Generation, toss in one of the Wilson sisters (Nancy) from ’70s rock outfit Heart, and a trio of players from that same band? The answer is Roadcase Royale, a bluesy rock n’ roll outfit that has managed to harness the magic of the Heart catalogue, and fuse it with original material from the band’s debut First Things First. The band weaves in some beloved covers along the way to round out their live performance. The resulting performance is one that earned the band 3 standing ovations, and a rousing ovation at the conclusion of the evening.
When you are an artist of the calibre of Nancy Wilson, it’s quite easy to jump on the Greatest Hits train and ride out the remaining years of your career with a staid and steady playlist. It’s a path that is sure to please fans, but it’s hardly what one would consider to be artistically satisfying. Instead, Nancy Wilson opted to pen a new chapter in her storied career, and teamed with Liv Warfield (former opening act for Heart) to lay the foundation for Roadcase Royale. The band eventually rounded out with Heart’s drummer Ben Smith, bassist Dan Rothchild, keyboardist Chris Joyner, and Liv’s collaborator and former bandmate in The New Power Generation, Ryan Waters. The Roadcase Royale tour has afforded Nancy and her band the opportunity to put together these exciting and unexpected setlists, cobbled together from both her past and present, leaving room to throw in some great covers to keep the audience guessing. Not only are the sets fresh, but Wilson gladly holds down stage right and passes lead vocals over to Liv and the band, happily providing backing vocals.
It was a definite treat to have a large contingent of Heart onstage here in Halifax, especially Nancy herself. However, on this night it was the pair of New Power Generation players who stole the show. Liv Warfield was discovered by the Purple One himself via a YouTube video of Liv performing “Gimme Shelter” at a Karaoke bar, and to get that stamp of approval says a great deal about the talent level of Ms. Warfield. For the first handful of songs she let Wilson take the wheel and hung back, but when it came time for “Cover Each Other” on the setlist, Warfield got to sink her teeth into a tune that was raw and vindictive. This allowed her smooth soulful tone to take on a more guttural, gravely snarl, and provided a great vocal contrast to Nancy’s sweeter interjections.
Warfield got to do some of the heavy lifting on the Roadcase Royale material, but she definitely shone when she stepped into the Ann Wilson role on the Heart classics. These are beloved tunes but Liv’s soulful interpretation felt completely natural, and not at all some sort of hollow replacement. Her performance breathed a freshness into these songs, and purists may attempt to scoff at the notion of even performing these classic numbers, but until the fences are mended between Nancy and Ann, Liv is more than capable of filling that role, and hopefully bringing in a new group of fans to the material.
“Crazy On You”, started off with Nancy taking centre stage playing a scorching opening, which eventually broke into those familiar rousing chords, making way for Liv’s soulful vocals to come and take the reins. As I’ve said, it sucks that Heart isn’t currently united, but Liv Warfield is an absolute treasure to behold as she handles these massive classic jams with a deftness and power not possessed by some of the upper tier artists. There wasn’t a single iota of apprehension from Warfield, and she put on a simply awe-inspiring performance.
Then there was her New Power collaborator Ryan Waters, who quietly held down stage left for a large portion of the show. But when it came time to cover the Pink Floyd classic “Comfortably Numb”, he took the show to an entirely different level. It was an absolutely faithful rendition of the classic number, with Ryan Waters handling the atmospheric airy vocals of Roger Waters, while Dan Rothchild took the lower, more grounded sound of David Gilmour; and while the vocals were spot on, it was that monumental solo that breaks out half way through on which Ryan Waters took over. His guitar work was intricate and absolutely scintillating, he was clearly lost somewhere out in the ethos channeling that guitar wizardry of the late great Prince. It was a performance that was 100% deserving of its standing ovation, and I was half-surprised to not see an inflatable pig float onstage.
The night wound down after a collection of Heart classics, a handful of Roadcase Royale, and some covers which were only being road-tested for the first time. Early in the set, the stage was bathed completely in purple light, and whether or not it was a bit of an homage to Prince, Nancy looked at Liv and proclaimed “Let’s do something we haven’t done before! Let’s do an acoustic Prince number” and they proceeded to perform “Take Me With U”. Nancy paid tribute to her dear friend Tom Petty with a performance of “You Wreck Me” early in the set, and about midway through, bassist (Dan Rothchild) turned lead Grohl handled vocals on the Foo Fighters “No Way Back”. Then it was time to put the cherry on the sundae, and the topper to the 90-minute set saw Nancy break out “an old warhorse” of an electric guitar which was emblazoned with the Marine Corps logo (in tribute to Nancy’s dad) and tear into that familiar stomp of the snarling Barracuda. It was a closing number that certainly put a smile on the faces of the Haligonians in attendance. Now the question is, will Nancy live up to her promise and return to the Halifax stage again.