Etheridge conveys life story with passion

Melissa Etheridge came to the Palace Theatre Saturday night with “a story to tell.” That story, as
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Melissa Etheridge came to the Palace Theatre Saturday night with “a story to tell.”

That story, as it turned out, was Etheridge’s life, from her roots in Kansas through her recent bout with cancer. It was all part of her Revival Tour, in support of her most recent album, last September’s “The Awakening.”

Rock stars telling their life stories through a two-and-a-half-hour concert is, to say the least, a bit bombastic. But Etheridge managed to pull it off quite well, in part because of her every-woman demeanor but mostly because her impassioned performance was so strong, keeping most of the audience on its feet for the majority of the evening.

She opened with a raucous “All American Girl,” off her breakthrough 1993 album “Yes I Am,” an apt choice considering the concept of the show. The song also helped to further cement the idea, no doubt intentionally, that Etheridge is just like her audience — a normal person, despite the fame and rock-star hype.

Her set spanned her entire nine-album, 20-plus-year career, with selections jumping from older albums such as “Your Little Secret” and “Brave and Crazy” to her most recent record. Despite the fact that she was ostensibly telling her story chronologically, she was able to create this flow without resorting to performing her material chronologically.

It wasn’t always perfect; her set did tend to feel split in half, the first part of the concert focusing on her relationship and love songs and the second half delving into her more recent, social commentary material such as the Oscar winning “I Need to Wake Up.” But her songs are so strong, and her band played with such conviction, that in the end, the individual stories in each song turned out to be more important than any overarching theme.

Highlights included a searing version of “An Unexpected Rain” off her latest release, and “I Want to Come Over,” which turned into a sing-along of sorts, with the audience joining in on the chorus. Etheridge was a dynamo on the stage, commanding the venue with her infectious energy, impassioned singing and rough-hewn, soulful vocals. On cuts such as “Mama, I’m Strange” early on in the set and later songs such as “Open Your Mind,” she proved her vocal prowess, going from a soft croon to a husky roar as needed.

During the set, Etheridge used the word “crazy” on more than one occasion to describe her own life’s experiences. In a way, the term also fit with her band’s raucous performance, in the best sense of the word.

Etheridge’s band wasn’t just backup; its members were her musical foils, adding strength and color to her blues-infused rock and folk. Of particular note was guitarist Philip Sayce, whose searing leads propelled the band throughout and played wonderfully off Etheridge’s voice and sparse acoustic guitar playing.

Although Etheridge has performed on numerous occasions at the Palace, the hunger and force she displayed could have been from a band only playing its first gig at the venue. Her lofty storytelling goal was successful to a degree, but strip that away and what remained was simply a great performance.

Categories: Life and Arts

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