Melissa Etheridge’s limited Live & Alone tour touches down at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset on Thursday night. The tour stops at the Cape Cod Melody Tent on Saturday.
Hard at work on her next album, Melissa Etheridge didn’t want to commit to a long summer tour with her full band. But she wasn’t averse to a short break from the studio, where she could stay connected to her fans.
The result was this summer’s limited Live & Alone tour, which touches down at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset tonight. The Etheridge tour stops at the Cape Cod Melody Tent on Saturday.
“I was wanting to sort of stay in shape vocally,” said Etheridge, from a tour stop in Biloxi, Mississippi. “I'm making an album, so I couldn't do a full, long tour with the band. This solo format just seemed to make sense, and it was so much fun when I did it in 2001, I was eager to try it again. Besides, I just feel like I'm in a much better place now than I was then.”
While she has been a regular summer attraction at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, this will be Etheridge's maiden show in Cohasset.
“The Melody Tent is one of my favorite places to play – it’s so rockin’,” she said. “I've played there with my bands, but never alone, so I'm looking forward to that. The thing about the revolving stages is that, since you're constantly spinning, you can close your eyes and then open them to a whole new front row. The faces in front of you are constantly changing, and they are constantly excited to be seeing you up close like that, so it gives the show a real palpable energy.”
Etheridge burst onto the charts in 1988 with her eponymous debut album, which yielded hits like “Similar Features” and “Bring Me Some Water.” The hits kept coming over the next years, with “You Can Sleep While I Drive” (1989), “Come to My Window” (1993), and “I Want to Come Over” (1995), helping make the Kansas native one of the biggest names in the music industry. She's released 10 albums in all, five of which went platinum and two went gold. With her intelligent lyrics and dynamic arrangements only surpassed by her fiery live shows, the longtime Bruce Springsteen fan has often been compared to ‘The Boss.’
Beyond her music, Etheridge has seen her personal life splashed among the tabloids. She was involved in a lengthy relationship with Julie Cypher, who bore them two children, daughter Bailey, now 12, and son Beckett, 11, with David Crosby famously serving as the sperm donor. The Cypher romance ended in 2000.
Etheridge went on to marry actress Tammy Lynn Michaels in 2003, and Michaels gave birth to twins in 2006. Miller Steven and Joly Rose will be 3 years old in October.
Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, but managed to beat it while inspiring thousands of other women. Her stirring rendition of “Piece of My Heart,” while still bald from chemotherapy at a 2005 Grammys tribute to Janis Joplin, was certainly one of the most memorable moments in that event's history.
“Having a family definitely makes scheduling the most difficult part of touring,” said Etheridge, 48. “We're working around school plays and soccer games, but I try to find a balance between family and work. The family stuff is the most joyful time of my life, and I make it a priority. I feel that I'm very fortunate to have those kinds of scheduling problems.”
Etheridge also has some Boston ties, owing to the three semesters she spent at Berklee College of Music in 1979-80, before leaving for the West Coast where her music career took root.
“Honestly I don't see anyone from those years in Boston when we come through,” Etheridge said. “It was 30 years ago and everyone has gone to the ends of the earth. But I love the city and still feel close to Boston.”
Although even her songs with a message tend to be subtle rather than strident, Etheridge can be a provocative figure backed by her social and political causes. She composed the theme song for “An Inconvenient Truth,” and with so much polarization in the air these days, the fact that her music and views favor unifying different groups of people doesn't always get through.
“People understand my show is not a political event,” Etheridge said. “The best political thing I can do is just be myself. I try to be truthfully open and honest on stage. My shows do not come with a political agenda.”
While her last album, 2007's excellent “The Awakening” took a more contemplative, folk-rock approach to its autobiographical songs, Etheridge said the album she's working on now will be a return to her rocking roots. She's enlisted John Shanks as producer. After working in her band as a guitarist, Shanks has gone on to produce top-notch albums by performers like Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow.
“We’ve brought in some new musicians, and you could say my band is in a state of flux,” Etheridge said. “I like that feeling, which brings an added energy to the whole affair. This next album will be more heavy rock ’n roll than the last couple I've done. I've done two of the new tunes on the summer tour so far, and they've gone over well. But the best part of this solo tour is that, vocally, it brings me so much more confidence in myself.”
And for longtime fans the best part of this solo tour has been the singer's willingness to take requests, and include unexpected covers on each show. So far the tour’s covers have included tunes from Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, Otis Redding and Bill Withers. Probably the most eye-opening covers have been Radiohead's “Creep,” and Nirvana’s “All Apologies.”
Etheridge couldn't say what she'd be covering on her Massachusetts stops, and obviously enjoys surprising her fans.
“Making up setlists every night has been so much fun, probably my favorite part of the tour,” said Etheridge. “I'm having a blast.”
The Patriot Ledger