Melissa Etheridge is unequivocal. “Every sound you’ll hear tonight is produced by me!‘. But she still cleverly uses technology to augment this solo performance. Mostly, it is percussive, as she claps a drum or a tambourine, then has these beats put on a rhythmic loop, while songs develops through her emotive vocals and astonishing guitar work. Cheating? No way. All this ensures is that the two hour-plus show has real depth and power.
These days, Melissa Etheridge is a consummate live artist, freely admitting tonight that, in the past she could seem almost intimidated onstage. But those days have long since gone. Now, she’s confident, affable and totally in control. Etheridge knows her audience and how to raise the fever. This isn’t manipulation, but empathy. As Chrome Plated Heart glides off at the start, you know this is an entertainer with a belief in her own songs. Comfortable with who she is and the type of devotees she attracts, Etheridge is relaxed and commanding, even prepared to mock the occasional shout from people in the crowd, without making it appear like a put down.
Out on her own, Etheridge revels in the space and opportunity. A lot of musicians can appear a little introspective when cut loose from their band, but not here, not now. She traverses through her catalogue and a range of eight guitars which form the backdrop. This is no gimmick. Etheridge proves herself a brilliant guitarist, reaching a crescendo on I’m The Only One, when she sets up an acoustic riff on one instrument, letting that loop develop as she straps on a double neck to deliver a devastating blues extravaganza, complemented by the occasional bark of harmonica. It’s a tour de force moment, in a set littered with highlights.
Yet while she is more than capable of uptempo plunges, Etheridge can also delicately bare her sould, as she shows when seated at the piano for What Are You Waiting For, and then again with a spontaneous rendering of Gently We Row, dedicated to her daughter, during which she jokingly admits to getting some of lyrics wrong, adding to her charm.
There’s also a nod to Joan Armatrading, one of her major influences, with a cover of Weakness In Me, before Monster gets everyone grooving, setting up a climactic Bring Me Some Water, her first single from 1988 and still a huge favourite. But it’s the encore of Like The Way I Do that has jaws dropping, as she unleashes an ecstatic, virtuoso guitar exposition.
This is someone who exudes style, substance and the knowledge that she has nothing to prove to her fans, but is damn well gonna prove it anyway. Prove what? That she crafts superb songs, laced with intimacy and vulnerability, performed live as if this might be her last time onstage. Making every second count. And Etheridge even has the ‘cheek’ to defend Terry Wogan. Now that’s brave!