Leavenworth’s gift to celebrity, Melissa Etheridge, is also Leavenworth’s gift to Rock music. On a cold night after a snow and after finals had finished, a decent crowd gathered to hear the singer, songwriter, and guitarist in McCain Auditorium.
We don’t often hear Rock concerts at McCain. This one had a few Christmas season details—songs and tinsel— to act as cover. And Etheridge is not your classic power trio leader. But her concert was still a Rock show.
She appeared flanked by steady kit drummer Brian Delaney and electric bassist Bill Santos.
She appeared with them. But the show was really all Etheridge and all about Etheridge, and her sidemen played with a degree of restraint. Santos got a little glissando, but even Delaney’s solo became a duet as the grinning star took sticks and played around behind the drummer, his rehearsed part meshing with hers.
The trio played fifteen or sixteen songs over two hours, which isn’t a lot. In between every song and even during a couple of them, Etheridge talked to the audience. She talked about singing in a church choir in Leavenworth. She talked about meeting up with a childhood friend. She talked about loving Soul music and particularly the issues of Stax Records. The chat was all pleasant and honest and hopeful. But most concert musicians can’t get away with talking as much as Etheridge did in McCain. She can because she’s not just a singer and a songwriter and a musician, and an icon for some lesbians, and a powerhouse of energy.
She’s also a blogger and a tweeter and someone known almost as much for her private life—her experience with cancer, her two children with another woman (who was artificially inseminated with the sperm of loquacious David Crosby), her romantic breakups, and so on—as she is for her sometimes confessional songs.
The songs are a lot of fun and deserve to be enjoyed for what they are. We heard “Bring Me Some Water,” “I’m the Only One,” “Come to My Window,” and “I Want to Come Over,” and they were all dramatic in the way of the pop Rock of Etheridge’s childhood. And she sings them with power and grit. First and foremost, Etheridge is a singer.
She also does well when she plays Blues.
One of the evening’s highlights was Albert King’s great “Born Under a Bad Sign,” her arrangement of which recalled Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.”
Perhaps her performances of John Lennon’s “And So This is Christmas” merged with “Give Peace a Chance,” though the latter is obviously meaningful for her, were less effective. I sort of liked the scattered and part-instrumental arrangement of “O, Holy Night.”
As a guitarist, Etheridge is generally good enough to get by.
She spent much of the evening playing a series of Ovation 12strings acoustic guitars and getting a sound just like the rhythm part in the Doobie Brother’s “Long Train Coming.”
She was obviously happier with rhythmic chording than with single- string solos, though she did do songs on a single-cutaway solidbody 6 string and on an arch-top electric guitar. The lack of a dedicated instrumental soloist, particularly given the restraint of Etheridge’s side men, made for an odd show musically.
But the arrangements left us to concentrate on her singing. And she sang very well. She sang, as Rock musicians need to, as if her tail were on fire. A more conventional Rock concert would also feature musicians playing with the same sort of desperation.
So what we got was not exactly like the standard Rock show.
But it was convivial.
And when Etheridge the singer went banging into one of her choruses, the audience felt some of the power of the music made for car radios.