Melissa Etheridge has come to be known for her up-front stands, sometimes controversial, on a number of social issues. She’s an icon for LGBT activists and has proven to be an all-around concerned citizen, lending her name and support to many important causes over her long career.
Saturday night at the State Theatre, she had a few comments to offer. But they were mostly of a personal nature. She came to play. And the audience for the long-sold-out show came ready to be part of the experience of music that works hard to make just about everything seem, at least for little while, a whole lot better.
To borrow from one of her hit songs, the 52-year-old may be, if not the “Only One,” one of the few who can move through so many high-spirited variations of rock, folk, blues, funk and country with nary a hitch.
Etheridge opened with “Shout Now,” one of several tunes from her latest CD, “4th Street Feeling.” The liberating anthem, with it’s fuzzed-out guitar boogie rumbling underneath, drew cheers for the vocal line insisting that “It’s time for dignity and pride.”
The singer’s wilder side also kept popping up, though, to balance all the uplift. On “Shadow of a Black Crow,” where her bluesy musings went down a dark road, she just had to conclude that “I’d rather die fast than to ever live slow.” Of course, she’s just an “All American Girl,” trying to make a go in “this man’s world” with nothing but raw courage and the power chords of rock ‘n’ roll holding her up.
Etheridge’s distinctive raspy, soulful voice was in fine form and her guitar playing was impressive. She switched among acoustic and electric guitars and played a bit of harmonica and keyboard as well. Her backup consisted of three veteran musicians she has worked with for quite a while.
With no opening act, Etheridge offered more than two hours of tunes from throughout her career. Her classic “Bring Me Some Water” engendered one of the loudest sing-alongs, topped only by “Come To My Window” and “I Want To Come Over,” with their lyrical tales of restless desire.
Etheridge took time to announce she is “nine years cancer free” by way of introduction to her inspirational “I Run For Life” and reminisced about her early years in Kansas on the way to singing “4th Street Feeling.”
A refreshingly subdued light show gave the concert an old-school rock show feeling, as did several excellent instrumental breaks led by Etheridge and guitarist Peter Thorn.
Near the end, an obviously pleased Etheridge thanked the crowd and was thanked in return. It was fun.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.