Heart singer Ann Wilson brings career-spanning show to Arcada Theatre

“Barracuda,” the blistering anti-sexism hit from the band Heart, sounds like it could have emerged from the anger of today's #MeToo movement.

It was written more than 40 years ago.

Ann Wilson, the song's writer and Heart's lead singer, says the fact that it resonates so strongly in 2018 shows just how far America still has to go to achieve gender equality.

“In some ways, things have worsened exponentially,” said Wilson, now touring and making music on her own. “I'm so happy that women are speaking out now, and that they can do that and still have a career. In the 'Barracuda' days, speaking out meant death, career-wise, for women.”

Wilson brings her tour to the suburbs for two stops at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles - Sunday, April 8, and Wednesday, April 11. The latter show will be recorded for a PBS special to air this fall.

She plans to perform songs from throughout her career, including some classic Heart hits, songs from her solo work and a few tracks from an album of covers that she plans to release this summer.

“So far, so good,” Wilson said of the current tour, which just got underway. “The audiences have been great, and I think the material sounds really fresh. Performing live is a lot more gratifying for me now. I don't really get nervous about it; I can just focus on relating to the crowd, which is great.”

Ann Wilson, lead singer of Heart, will perform songs from throughout her career during two shows at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Courtesy of Jess Griffin

Heart, the band led by Wilson and her younger sister, Nancy, burst onto the rock scene in the mid-1970s with anthemic hits such as “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man.” The band's sound drew from hard rock and heavy metal, with elements of acoustic folk sprinkled in. A constant was Wilson's powerhouse voice, which seemed made to soar into the rafters of a concert arena.

As successful as the band was, Wilson and her sister endured some sniggering from executives, radio programmers and other members of the male-dominated music industry at the time. It was a rude comment about the two women from a concertgoer that inspired Wilson to pen “Barracuda.”

“It was a novelty then, seeing two women lead a rock band,” Wilson said. “Thankfully, that has changed, though I imagine it still isn't easy.”

The band's popularity waned in the early 1980s, but then the Wilson sisters overhauled their look and sound to match the big hair and power ballads that were all the rage. The mid-1980s version of Heart resulted in some of the band's biggest hits, including “What About Love” and “Alone.”

Wilson performs songs from both of those periods during her shows, but she picks the songs carefully.

“Some just don't stand the test of time,” she said. “A song like 'Magic Man' - that was written when I was 22 or 23, and now I just can't slip back into the person I was then. So I do songs that still resonate with me as I am today.”

Wilson also plans to perform songs from her upcoming record, which has a working title of “Songs for the Living, Vol. 1.” It will consist of songs from artists who have died in recent years, including retro-soul singer Amy Winehouse, ex-Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and Southern rocker Tom Petty. It is tentatively scheduled to be released in July.

“I think I got the idea after Chris Cornell died,” Wilson said. “I knew I couldn't just do a tribute album. I'm trying to dig deep into the soul of these artists, to show what they all left us.”

Ann Wilson, lead singer of Heart, will perform songs from throughout her career during two shows in St. Charles. Courtesy of Ann Wilson

Local fans who miss the Arcada shows will have another chance to see Wilson this summer, when she performs in Chicago with Paul Rodgers, the former Bad Company frontman, and legendary guitarist Jeff Beck. The show will take place July 29 at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island.

Wilson hopes that she and Nancy will perform together as Heart once again, though she doesn't expect that to happen soon. Recent headlines about the sisters paint their relationship as strained, but Wilson says it's not as bad as portrayed.

“There's no family feud,” she said. “Some of those stories were a little tabloided up. The truth is that Nancy and I are both having fun doing our own things right now, being independent.”

In the meantime, Wilson is enjoying the fact that she's still performing to appreciative crowds more than four decades after her first hit came out.

“When I started, I didn't think I'd be alive in my 60s, much less still performing,” she said with a laugh. “It's been such a rich journey for me. I've met so many brilliant, beautiful people, and I've learned so much. I'm just trying to keep swimming along, doing things that are meaningful.”

Ann Wilson

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, April 8, and Wednesday, April 11

Where: Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles,

Tickets: Start at $59

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