Concert Review And More: Melissa Etheridge Talks Influences

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Melissa Etheridge concert at Meijer Gardens
Published: Tuesday, August 10, 2010, 12:36 AM Updated: Tuesday, August 10, 2010, 1:07 AM
John Sinkevics | The Grand Rapids Press


GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP — Melissa Etheridge declared Monday an official holiday at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

“It’s a holiday: It’s August Day,” she proclaimed about a half-hour into her first-ever concert at the outdoor amphitheater, plainly wowed by the jubilant sold-out crowd enjoying the sultry sunshine. “Just say, ‘I can’t go to work. I’m too happy.’ ”
Well, Etheridge and her four-piece rock band were so cheerful themselves about making the first day of the work week into a summer furlough, they unleashed a bunch of “firsts” for Meijer Gardens:

”¢ The first time an artist has taken the stage by strolling through adoring fans down the center aisle of the packed amphitheater, something Etheridge took a few minutes to accomplish before launching into “We Are the Ones” to open the evening.

”¢ The first time I’ve ever seen two musicians (Etheridge and lead guitarist Peter Thorn) play the same guitar at the same time, something they accomplished with impressive efficiency during the 1988 classic “Bring Me Some Water” near the end of the show (just before Etheridge pulled the same shtick with drummer Blair Sinta).

”¢ The first time I’ve seen Meijer Gardens rope off a reserved section for an artist’s fan club members in the middle of the amphitheater (which some club devotees eschewed so they could stand closer to the stage).

”¢ The first time I’ve seen an artist pluck a flower (which Etheridge did during a pregnant pause in the midst of “I Want to Come Over”) from the bed of blooms at the foot of the stage.

Being a holiday and all, no one seemed to mind, mostly because Etheridge — in her pink “New York City” T-shirt and brown jeans — managed to thoroughly enthrall the 1,750-plus concertgoers (and any floral bodyguards) with a passionate display of her rootsy rock arsenal.

After a couple of decades of touring, Etheridge has earned the right to pick a pretty rose or two for her bouquet because she’s become a true rock star with the maturity to know what works and what doesn’t, and just what buttons to push on stage to fire up her exceptionally loyal fan base.

Perhaps that’s because she’s learned from some of the best — and most inspiring — performers in the business.
“It was a combination. It was Bruce Springsteen — the showmanship and rock-and-rollingness of Springsteen,” she had told me in an earlier interview. “It was the passion I heard in listening to Janis Joplin, and I wanted to be fun like Bette Midler. I wanted to be dramatic like The Who and soulful like Aretha Franklin.”

She showed glimpses of all of these artists near the end of her long concert, especially during an elongated rendition of “Like The Way I Do” which closed out her main set. There was soul, there was showmanship, there was power.

Sure, Etheridge gets repetitive and can sound somewhat one-dimensional musically and thematically — that incessant longing for love and sexual freedom, finding the courage to express that affection. But this is her mantra, and as such, she professes it with real inner fire.

And while she certainly could have been less-than-focused due to the intensely muggy weather, or the child custody battle with her former partner, or the challenge of connecting fans with new and possibly unfamiliar songs (eight of them to be exact from her latest album, “Fearless Love), it never showed in her performance or that of her band (Sinta, Thorn, keyboard player Kristopher Pooley and bassist Dan Rothchild).

Review: 4 out of 4 stars

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