Melissa Etheridge released her album Yes I Am twenty-five years ago, and returned to the capital region Saturday night at her last stop on the anniversary tour. Singing highlights from her career and storytelling along the way, Etheridge captivated her fans for a two-plus hour concert at The Egg on Saturday, October 13.
Opening with “All American Girl,” Etheridge entered the stage looking like a rock star should: clad in black, wearing a choker and rhinestones, and with a guitar slung over her shoulder, the 57-year-old Etheridge bounded across the stage with the sexy confidence earned through years of performing.
She reminisced with the audience about writing music in her 20s, and laughed at herself and her “big dreams” in 1988 of becoming a rock star “and all my problems would be solved.” Etheridge smiled as she recalled her mullet and her mistakes as a young woman in love. “You’d think I would’ve figured it out, or at least listened to what I was writing,” she wryly smiled as she crooned into the mash-up of “Let Me Go / Come Over.”
The hugely popular Etheridge was enigmatic as she shared her mistakes with love and self-growth in the 1980s. “I was running away from monogamy,” she laughed, and the audience cheered in unison as if owning that they too had similar struggles. For all the authentic sharing that was intensely personal, there was a universal theme to the evening’s experience. For whom hasn’t been in love and made mistakes?
By 1993, Etheridge stated, she was ready and finally, with the help of a therapist, “in control.” Or so she thought, as she sang “If I Wanted To,” pointing out that people can’t always choose who to love. She remembered the longing and desire it took for the fourth album to be created, but reassured fans that it is just like everything else in her life: “in it for the long run.”
Etheridge’s humility was revealed again in her humor, noting she must’ve sold “six million copies” of her fourth album “to 2,000 people” who either broke cassette tapes or lost the CDs in the breakups and had to re-purchase the album. She thanked the fans for their support and genuinely embraced the fans’ loyalty.
Etheridge’s sharing of stories made the night feel so intimate, even with a sold-out show at the Egg. By talking about some very intimate and personal stories, including her coming out story, how she unintentionally “out-ed” fans who would become advocates for marriage equity (who were present at the Egg for this anniversary performance in the front row), her battle with cancer, and even the death of her father, Etheridge became so much more real of a person than most rock stars allow.
Musical highlights of the night included her performance of “Silent Legacy,” a song about breaking hidden rules and embracing the beauty of human sexuality. Etheridge’s guitar playing appears easy, but she plays both the 6 and 12 string with incredible technique, pulling a longing from the instrument that only a well-practiced musician could. She rolled on the ground toward the end of the song, looking like she was making love to her instrument, and indeed forced folks to cope with any discomfort with the raw sexuality represented in her music.
She wept quietly through “Talking to My Angel,” both a tribute to her father and also remembering Marilyn, the partner of the fan in the front row that had been an outspoken advocate for marriage rights. The tenderness of the words, paired with the clear voice of her guitar, was haunting.
The wildest song of the night, though, was “Bring Me Some Water,” where the lights flashed orange and red as Etheridge’s singing and playing brought The Egg to the edge of lost control. Her ability to rapidly build pace, belt out her famously raspy vocals while demonstrating complete control of her instrument matched the theme of the song: a complete loss of control to desire.
She ended the night with an encore of “Like the Way I Do,” joining her drummer on the drum set and pounding out a rhythmic solo which she clearly enjoyed as much as the fans. Inviting an echo from her fans, she shook her blonde locks and reminded us that no one makes us love them quite the way she does. As she asked “does she electrify and shock and rock you,” the audience shrieked with the excitement of teenagers their audible “no.”
Melissa Etheridge is one of the only female rocker musicians of her time to politically charge a generation of people with the belief that human love and desire is not only natural but to be celebrated. She joined with the men at the concert, confirming she knows how hard it is to love a woman. And she reminded listeners to take better care of their own hearts before going out to save the world, stating “If you want to see more love, be more love.”
Melissa Etheridge brought her not so silent legacy to the world 25 years ago, and we will never be the same. Thank goodness.