Ohio continued its love affair with Melissa Etheridge last night (Sunday, July 1) when the Grammy-winning (Best Rock Vocal, Female) singer returned to the Hard Rock in Northfield.
Etheridge has played the Buckeye State a lot over the last couple years, with prior dates at Evans Amphitheatre (Cain Park) and Severance Hall (with Liza Grossman and Contemporary Youth Orchestra) allowing her to stretch different musical muscles and show off her myriad vocal and instrumental skills.
Etheridge’s aptly-named The Rock Show tour stop might just have been her rowdiest Cleveland-area visit yet.
And why not?
Now nearing her 60s, the superstar has conquered the charts, kicked cancer to the curb, won an Oscar (for An Inconvenient Truth contribution “I Need to Wake Up”), advocated for LGBT rights, appeared on Broadway (American Idiot), and become a prolific philanthropist (Equality Florida). Having already climbed more hills than most of her peers (not to mention us fans), the devoted mother (and avid pancake-maker) is free to rock out wherever, whenever she likes.
Here are five reasons why you should indulge in a little Etheridge when she passes through your neighborhood…or comes to your window, so to speak.
1. It’s the 25th anniversary of her best-selling album.
Etheridge’s 1993 album Yes I Am was not only the Leavenworth, Kansas native’s “coming out” record: It was her commercial breakthrough to mainstream audiences. A quarter-century later, the critically-acclaimed, six-times platinum disc still enjoys considerable airplay on terrestrial and satellite radio. Melissa teased Island records founder Chris Blackwell during Sunday’s engagement about his first impressions of the disc all those years ago.
“It’s good, but it’s not your career-making album,” he surmised.
Thankfully, the reggae mogul (and U2 / B-52s mentor) couldn’t have been more wrong. Arriving in the midst of the Grunge upheaval and during a country music resurgence (Garth Brooks, Billy Ray Cyrus), Etheridge’s fourth studio effort nonetheless yielded a handful of hits and heavy-rotation MTV video clips. Melissa revisited four Yes I Am classics for the casino crowd, with “Come to My Window,” “Ruins,” “I’m the Only One” and the title track receiving some of the night’s most boisterous reactions.
2. It’s also the 30th anniversary of her eponymous debut.
Etheridge didn’t need further justification to add more frosting to this concert cake. But hey, 2018 marks the thirtieth anniversary of her first album, Melissa Etheridge—which means she’s been on this album/tour cycle for most of her adult life. So why not raise a glass?
“Thanks for letting me not have to get a real job! she gushed, her gratitude sincere.
3. Etheridge is an underrated guitarist.
Some celebrity songwriters hire a second (and third, and fourth…) guitarist to do all the heavy lifting on stage. Not so Etheridge, who handled all the chords, arpeggios, lead breaks, and solos on openers “No Souvenirs,” “Similar Features,” and “Let Me Go.” Melissa appeared with a charcoal-colored 12-string acoustic guitar—which produced a bright, dense sound—but a technician proffered a fresh axe after every couple tunes. Etheridge astounded on an aquamarine electric 12-string, dazzled on a maroon Gibson ES-335, scorched on a sparkling silver Les Paul, and blew minds with a burgundy Gretsch (equipped with a “whammy bar” tremolo” that Melissa manipulated for some psychedelic feedback.
In fact, a few selections felt as if they’d been deliberately extended for Etheridge’s solo guitar sojourns. “Chrome-Plated Heart” boasted lots of tasty wah-wah tones. “Bring Me Some Water” and “How Would I Know” likewise featured her feisty fretboard acrobatics.
4. Melissa keeps it real…and connects with crowds on a personal level.
“How Would I Know” was the sole offering from Etheridge’s 1999 disc Breakdown, which she referred to as her “poor me” project.
“I’d been going through a lot of things back then,” she reflected. “Whenever I hear songs from it, I just want to give myself a hug!”
Elsewhere, the singer emphasized how personal crises (failed relationships) and global concerns (politics, pollution, etc.) can serve as opportunities for self-improvement and social change: “You come out stronger than before,” she said.
5. Etheridge’s band members are the bee’s knees.
For as versatile as Melissa was on her guitars (and on a microphone, her signature rasp potent and piping), her backing players were virtuosic, too. Bassist David Santos (Elton John, Billy Joel) pinned the bottom end on Your Little Secret standout “I Want to Come Over” and Yes I Am anthem “I’m the Only One.” Drummer Brian Delaney (New York Dolls, David Bowie) delineated meters and minutes with passion and power. Max Hart (We Are Scientists, Katy Perry) carved out piano and organ textures on a Nord Electro keyboard.
Etheridge also had a bit of fun on harmonica before signing off with “Like the Way I Do.”
The concert (which clocked in at about 100 minutes) could’ve been a song or two longer—or featured a surprise or two from middling albums like Skin (2001), Lucky (2004), and Fearless Love (2010)—but it can’t be said Melissa’s “gold old sweaty rock ‘n’ roll show” didn’t send fans home satisfied.
“I love a Sunday night audience!” she told the Northfield attendees. “Folks who aren’t ready for the weekend to end!”