Last night, Melissa Etheridge brought her heartfelt songs, massive voice, and undeniably rocking band to the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, where she played an unexpectedly raucous set of songs spanning the length of her entire career.
High on the list of songs we never expected to hear over the sound-system immediately prior to a Melissa Etheridge concert would be just about anything out of the Ted Nugent catalogue --especially considering Ted's most recent verbal spewings about Barack Obama and Etheridge's performance at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. While we did enjoy the reminder of what a kick-ass track "Stormtroopin'" is, we couldn't help but think "If You Can't Lick 'Em... Lick 'Em" would've made for a more appropriate selection.
Kicking off the show, Etheridge's band members took the stage in the dark. As guitarist Peter Thorn coaxed a powerful set of "karranging" chords from his guitar, drummer Blair Sinta hammered out a visceral rhythm from his toms that eventually called Etheridge from the back of the darkened stage, her trusty 12 string Ovation guitar in hand.
Etheridge gave the crowd an exuberant greeting before segueing into the title track of 2010's Fearless Love. The first thing that caught our attention was just how powerful the now 51-year old singer's voice is after this many years of belting her way through shows and records. Etheridge's smoky, "female Rod Stewart" vocals still hold the power to push the emotion of her lyrics through with ease. The second thing was the fact that majority of the room had risen to their feet, and that the fans with floor seats had created a veritable sea of cell phone screens-- all recording keepsakes of a woman that has undoubtedly touched them deeply with her music. During the instrumental bridge of "Fearless Love," Etheridge assured the audience that they were in for an "awesome" night, to which they cheered wildly.
The second number of the night, "Your Little Secret", featured Etheridge turning the humidity of Florida into a sexual innuendo of sorts before singing the song's very Led Zeppelin-inspired verses. By this point in the show, a pool of VIP/fan club members had collected at the foot of the stage, and they appeared more than a little excited to be in such close proximity to the songstress.
"Chrome Plated Heart," from the singer's self-titled 1988 debut album, had what felt like the entire audience singing in unison, and was the night's first glimpse of Etheridge's underrated skills as a guitarist in the form of a wah-wah pedaled solo on her turquoise 12-string electric. Though Etheridge is no slouch on the guitar, her guitarist Peter Thorn is absolutely world class. Thorn brought just the right amount of rock 'n' roll attitude to Etheridge's sometimes less rocking songs. The solos Thorn played throughout night were, in a word, devastating. A major highlight from a musical standpoint was Thorn's guitar feature towards the end of the set, in which he ran from one side of the stage to the other, completely letting loose of just about every note his fingers could hit. If you're a fan of great instrumental guitar music, check out Pete's album, Guitar Nerd.
An extremely touching moment in the night came with the breast cancer awareness anthem, "I Run for Life." As the lighting of the stage changed to pink, Etheridge sang a song written from a place of painful experience, and while the lyrics alone carried a great deal of weight, the amount of meaning it held for the singer was palpable in her voice.
Etheridge kept social commentary and sermons to a minimum, stopping briefly to talk about the hole in the ozone wrapped in a quip about Aquanet in her introduction to 1989's "No Souvenirs." Etheridge maintained a high level of contact with the audience, taking the time to address the crowd as though she was speaking to each person individually. The audience responded by singing at the top of their lungs and dancing throughout the evening in the aisles, balconies, and wherever they could go without getting swept back to their seats by security. While the moves were a bit awkward, it must be said that the average Etheridge fan dances in public with an abandon we could all learn from.
The climax of the show came during megahit "I'm the Only One," which brought Etheridge's criminally underrated voice to the top of its range, and had every member of the three-piece band backing her firing on all cylinders. Etheridge obviously loves her band, and at one point toward the end of the evening, played a four-armed-drummer bit with Blair Sinta, had a call and response session with bassist Brett Simons, and did the four-armed bit again with guitarist Thorn before crashing the strings of their two guitars together to make a noise that sounded like lighting crashing.
Now 8 years cancer free, seemingly far away from any remnants of public divorce drama, and beyond elated to be playing music live, Melissa Etheridge managed to bring coffee house intimacy to the large capacity room of the Hard Rock without sacrificing the bombast of a full on rock show.
Personal Bias: I've never been a fan, but always held respect for Melissa's body of work.
Overheard: "She's amazing, she's fucking amazing."
Random Detail: Mullets. Everywhere.
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