Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Melissa Etheridge concert review

Photo by Kelly A. Swift
My review originally appeared at 

Hello, hello/this is Romeo/calling from a jackpot telephone.

Melissa Etheridge sang those opening lines, from her top 10 album rock radio track “No Souvenirs,” a quarter ways through a rousing Pacific Amphitheatre show on Sunday night. The lyrics mirrored a conversational tone inherent throughout the rousing 2 hour, 10-minute concert. 

One of the most dynamic female rock performers to emerge in the late ‘80s, Etheridge treated the stage like her living room. At times, hearing the warm and detailed introductions felt like reconnecting with an old friend after an extended absence.

She spent considerable time – as is common whenever there’s a gig booked in Orange County or surrounding areas – reminiscing about the old SoCal nightclub days, particularly residencies at Long Beach lesbian bar the Que Sera.

For last year’s stirring “Fearless Love,” the singer/guitarist re-teamed with producer and onetime band mate John Shanks (Bon Jovi, Chris Isaak) on an entire album, their first together since 1999’s “Breakdown” (and incidentally her last gold record). The result was a more expansive rock-driven approach than recent studio efforts. It also boasted guest vocal appearances by Joss Stone and Natasha Bedingfield. 

Photo by Kelly A. Swift
Keeping along the somewhat edgier music terrain, Etheridge did a week-long stint as the character St. Jimmy in Green Day’s musical “American Idiot” on Broadway this past February. Now she is reportedly working on co-writing her own theatrical production.

In Costa Mesa, an extended aggressive intro from the three-piece band built anticipation, then Etheridge slowly appeared wide-eyed and smiling. They launched the set with an inspiring “Fearless Love,” led by Peter Thorn’s panoramic electric guitar sound. 

Although the venue wasn’t completely full (terrace was half empty despite a reasonable ticket price and entrance into the fairgrounds was surprisingly easy for a weekend), the crowd was very enthusiastic.

Many female couples embraced and sang along loudly to the best known hits. Some women in cowboy hats and sunglasses near me whooped it up all evening. Several Etheridge songs revolve around secrets, longing or craving something and fulfilling a need. Some of those (“The Wanting of You,” with gritty vocals and a circuitous guitar pattern; forceful, chiming rocker “I Want to Come Over”) ended up highlights in O.C.

Before delving into the moody and autobiographical “An Unexpected Rain” (featuring another tasteful Thorn solo), Etheridge described how she recently drove down the 5 freeway and marveled at the burgeoning Citadel Outlets in Commerce. The tune was a nice breather from the preceding uptempo tunes.

Using a pink electric guitar, Etheridge explained how she never really liked the color until her breast cancer battle. Proudly proclaiming to be “seven years free” of the disease and giving shout outs to her former radiation care nurses in attendance - not to mention an uncle who provided a place to live before she signed a record deal - the uplifting “I Run for Life” had a slow buildup and tribal drums until the passionate vocals came in.

Inspired by her cancer journey and research fundraisers, the song’s affecting words: “They cut into my skin/they cut into my body/but they will never get a piece of my soul” left an indelible mark in the mind.

Despite being a chatty performer and having a set list with a few songs rotated each night, Etheridge had trouble vamping when Thorn was tied up due to a technical issue. Eventually, the problem was solved. The bluesy “Nervous” was driven by her sandpapery vocals, Hendrix-style guitar work and segued into a sultry version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Diehard fans engaged in call and response action on sensual deep album cut “Meet Me in the Back” (off 1992’s Never Enough). The drawn out length got tiresome by the end though.

That sexually charged vibe continued on the fiery, extended closing tandem of “Bring Me Some Water,” where Etheridge playfully engaged in a guitar dual with bassist Dan Rothchild and reached from behind Thorn to strum his guitar on “Like the Way I Do.” The latter found all the band members pounding on drummer Blair Sinta’s kit and their leader providing a soulful wail. Everything ended in a rock maelstrom worthy of Neil Young & Crazy Horse. 

Melissa Etheridge, Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, July 31, 2011
Setlist: Fearless Love/The Wanting of You/Your Little Secret/I Want to Come Over/No Souvenirs/If I Wanted To/An Unexpected Rain/Come to My Window/Meet Me in the Back/I Run For Life/Nervous (incorporates Ain’t No Sunshine)/I’m the Only One/Bring Me Some Water/Like the Way I Do

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