Roots Report: Melissa Etheridge’s Show

I was at the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford last Wednesday night to catch the ME Solo Show. That is Melissa Etheridge for all of you who weren’t there. When we arrived, the stage was filled with electric guitars, amps, a bass, a grand piano, a djembe, a cajon (a wooden box drum), lots of candles, a crystal skull, a few lava lamps and scarves were everywhere one could be tied. The instruments were all just for one person to play: Melissa Etheridge. At about 8:05 the near capacity crowd got up and cheered when they heard the strumming of an acoustic 12-string Ovation guitar. Etheridge walked onto the stage playing the song,  “Ain’t It Heavy.” She was clad in jeans, a white shirt, black vest and black leather jacket. In between verses of “Ain’t It Heavy” she yelled out “Hey, New Bedford, what’s up?” When she wrapped the song she addressed the crowd. “How have you been? How are you doing? How are the kids?” She continued, “Everything you hear tonight will be made right here on this stage. I have been practicing. It’s grown, gotten fancy, there’s a little technology involved, it goes like this.” Etheridge began to play a beat on the djembe, then she played a little bit of tambourine, she finished the percussion with some cajon. All of this was recorded into her looping equipment. “Once you get the beat going and then…” She picked up her 12 string guitar and launched into “If I Only Wanted To.” During one portion of the song she looped her acoustic guitar, picked up the bass and then said, “I get to add some bass, everybody needs some bass!” After the bass was looped she picked up her Telecaster electric and with her fully looped backing band began to play lead guitar to the song. This process was repeated for most of the songs throughout the 13-song, two-hour show. She did stray from the looped backing theme of the show when she performed songs such as “Talking to My Angel” and “You Can Sleep While I Drive” with just piano and “Come to My Window” on acoustic guitar. Overall Etheridge genuinely seemed to be enjoying herself. At one point while she was playing, two men in the front row were taking a selfie and Etheridge bent down between them for the photo-op while continuing to play the guitar. She mentioned how much she loved the Zeiterion Theater that she and her kids were playing hide and seek earlier in the day and “if you see any kids out there they’re mine. I didn’t find them!”

At the halfway point of the show she pulled out a two and a half week old song that was written and recorded just days after the Florida nightclub shooting. She sang “Pulse” with the chorus that repeats, “I am human, I am love, my heart beats in my blood, love will always win, underneath the skin, everybody’s got a pulse.” As with many of the songs that evening the audience took to their feet and applauded. After “Pulse” Etheridge went to each side of the stage and bowed holding her hand over her heart.

She pulled out a brown hollow body electric guitar that she said was named Cate Blanchette and performed the song “Rock Me Baby” from her upcoming CD of Stax Record’s songs. During this number she also played a harmonica solo and a slide guitar solo. A couple of songs later when she brought out a 12-string electric guitar she said, “I just call this one Trouble!”  During the song, “Chrome Plated Heart” she looped her own voice singing “Oh, yeah” and used if for a backing vocal track. She began to wind down the show and said, “It’s always a pleasure to come here and I hope to see you all again soon.” She went on to talk about spreading peace, love and beauty. She pulled out a selfie stick and bent over to take a selfie with the audience. Afterward she went into her first hit song “Bring Me Some Water.” That concluded the show, but the audience leapt to their feet and demanded more.

After a few minutes of thunderous applause, once again the strum of an acoustic guitar was heard and Etheridge took the stage sporting a bright, white Ovation 12-string guitar. “Like The Way I Do” was the encore. She strutted around playing various, passionate strums on her guitar. This piece was performed without the aid of any looping. At about 10pm she closed the show, thanked everyone, gave her pick to someone in the front row and ran offstage.

This was the first time I had seen Melissa Etheridge in concert. I have been a bit of a fair weather fan of hers over the years, but have enjoyed what I have heard on the radio. While I don’t own any of her recordings, I do like her music and thought the concert at the Z was very entertaining. I think I would have liked to have heard more songs and less playing with the looper, though. Etheridge’s gravelly voice sounded great with just the simple accompaniment of piano or acoustic guitar and while it was cool initially, the looping tended to take away from the show and cut down on the amount of material she performed. She did well when she stuck to the acoustic guitar or piano, but when she played lead over the looping it was weak. He strong points are her songs, voice and acoustic guitar playing. When she played electric leads she was stiff and she didn’t come across as being totally comfortable doing this. For the most part, what she did seemed to work just fine for the show and 99% of the crowd probably thought she was an amazing guitar player. It’s just me, I have seen a LOT of players and play as well so I am a bit fussy when it comes to guitar playing. My date thought the show was one of the best she has ever seen. So, there you go.

BTW, you all should really put the Z on your radar. They have a LOT of shows and it is a very easy drive from Providence to New Bedford. 195 all the way. Parking is  plentiful and close. Seriously, you are missing out if you don’t check out a show there.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

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