|photo by Armando Brown|
A heavy rainstorm and small tornado tore through Los Angeles on Friday, but when Melissa Etheridge arrived, she was a force of nature all her own.
Wrapping up a full band tour at the Orpheum (which followed a solo acoustic jaunt), the tireless performer spent more than two hours onstage.
The powerful proceedings were shot for later broadcast on AXS TV and a future DVD release.
Over the past couple years, the veteran L.A.-based rocker made several life changes. Etheridge got remarried, changed management and launched her own label.
Current studio album “This is M.E.” used a more experimental musical approach with new collaborators known for their urban and pop work. The Lumineers' Neyla Pakarek provided cello/backing vocals to a few tunes. The highly appealing results still rock, though.
Key example: the inspiring Springsteen-esque concert opener “I Won’t Be Alone,” on which Etheridge beat on drums as she sang. It was the first of nine songs from “This is M.E.” that comprised half the set. Unlike other places around the country, SoCal fans were treated to extras, like the sumptuous, seldom played “Ruins,” off 1993 blockbuster “Yes I Am.”
Another tour rarity, “Meet Me in the Back,” a breezy rock shuffle about unadulterated passion, found Etheridge reminiscing (as she is inclined to do) about her early ’80s days playing local bars. The band’s spirited delivery and call and response action with fans made it feel like a classic Sixties nugget. Etheridge spent much of the night playing her signature 12-string Ovation guitar.
Some added estrogen (thanks to having two female backing vocalists for the first time) gave the older material a bigger heft. During the powerful “I Want to Come Over,” the pleading lyrics were drawn out for dramatic effect. Many times, the boss lady playfully leaned on her male musicians.
“We’re going to make some memories tonight,” said Etheridge, before delving into recent single “Take My Number.” Among her strongest to date, the comforting tune revolves around someone who’s “been around the block and got burned, but never gave up.”
A palpable sense of excitement enveloped the Orpheum during “Come to My Window” – always an Etheridge live standout. Some gay and lesbian couples sang along loudly, particularly when the singer got to the wailing refrain, “I don't care what they think/I don't care what they say/What do they know about this love anyway?”
Before “A Little Bit of Me,” with its togetherness vibe, Etheridge beamed about being cancer free for a decade and her daughter’s acceptance to Columbia University (“Guess I’ll be working for quite a while,” she said).
Elsewhere, Etheridge did a vocoder intro on the dramatic “Like a Preacher,” then proved she could hold her own with any male rock guitarist around amid potent solos on “If I Wanted To” and a frantic “Bring Me Some Water.”
North Carolina folk/rock group Delta Rae added jubilant guest vocals to “I’m the Only One.” Paired with Etheridge’s harmonica solo ending, it was transformed into a fine new gospel/blues/rock hybrid.
One minor quibble: my hope to hear a seasonal selection from 2008’s “A New Thought for Christmas” didn’t materialize.
All told, this was a highly satisfying show from start to finish.
Setlist: Melissa Etheridge at the Orpheum
I Won’t Be Alone/I Want to Come Over/Chrome Plated Heart/Take My Number/A Little Hard Hearted/Come to My Window/Do it Again/Ruins/A Little Bit of Me/If I Wanted To/Ain’t That Bad/Meet Me in the Back/Like a Preacher/All the Way Home>Stir it Up/Bring Me Some Water/I’m the Only One/Like the Way I Do
See elsewhere on this blog to read my review of Etheridge's fall tour stop in Riverside, California.