Melissa Etheridge shares a piece of heart -- and mind -- in high-powered show

Margaret Smith

Melissa Etheridge had a lot to say Friday – about music, about life on the road, dumb mistakes in relationships, surviving cancer, the future of the planet, and the importance of knowing when to speak up.

And her fans loved her for all of this, which she delivered with her sensual, growling vocals still in top form; a keen-edged rock and a robust heart, and a high-current charge of energy magnified by an enraptured audience.

She held that audience for the nearly three-hour concert, a stop on her 2008 Revival Tour marking the 20th anniversary of her self-titled debut release, with the energy never flagging or diluting.

Playing defining songs, such as “Bring Me Some Water,” “Come To My Window” and “I Want To Come Over,” Etheridge bantered about the song’s inspirations – love long on passion and short on life’s wisdom; love bordering on dangerous obsession; love that turned out not to be love but a need to quell a deep loneliness.

And, everyone got it all – probably because everyone has felt it all, at one time or another, and some finding a healing balm in Etheridge’s uncanny ability to speak to universal relationship tragedies, absurdities and revelations with honesty and even humor.

Mixed in these anecdotes were stories of packing up her car (“Remember when everything you owned could fit in your car?” she mused, to many knowing chuckles) and leaving her Kansas hometown for California to make her name.

She also talked of acceptance of her sexual orientation, bringing a new round of shouts and applause -- and about living some of her heartbreaks in the public eye. Not to easy for straights, but for famous same-sex couples, there’s an added glare, and this came through as well, but not without a sense of resilience.

Etheridge threw in a shout-out to straight admirers.

“Let’s hear it for the straight people!” she urged, which brought a new round of cheers and warm laughter.

And, there was the cancer, and overcoming it, not without sorrow and pain, but also with humor, learning to reduce stress and to eat right, and, as with all her struggles, with a whole lot of music.

More recent songs spoke gently but directly and without apology to the causes Etheridge cares about, including the environment, and an end to discrimination.

In “If Not Now,” she asked plaintively, in a song of the same name, “what happens tomorrow?” with an overt reference to Barack Obama’s quest for presidency, among other hopes.

All this came across with the formidable sound of Etheridge’s masterful musicality and that of her back-up band. Their long-standing rapport shone through with stop-on-a-dime tightness and the right touches of playfulness as well as exhilarating, raw power.

It’s a power that stayed true throughout and waxed anew during the encore – an explosive rendition of musical ancestor Janis Joplin’s “Little Piece of My Heart,” evoking a spirit, from one lady of song to another, and a reminder of the fragility that complements strength in the greatest of artists.

Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor for Community Newspaper Company’s Northwest Unit. E-mail her at