Chances are Melissa Etheridge wouldn’t have had any trouble selling tickets to three nights at the Auditorium Theatre on her own, though it’s safe to say she found additional leverage from the Gay Games being in town last week. “You have a very gay city at the moment,” she joked toward the beginning of Thursday’s stop. “I see some straight people in the audience and now you know how we feel all the time.” Of course, Etheridge welcomes all at her show, following up the statement with a laugh, and she’s certainly a hit maker well beyond those who share her sexual orientation. Perhaps the personal venue helped put her and the crowd at particular ease, especially given the fact she usually plays the enormous Allstate Arena, United Center, and even Taste Of Chicago.
But a look back at her lengthy career required a more intimate environment, recalling her “Live And Alone” tour behind 2001’s Skin at the Chicago Theatre, which also saw her play three successive shows. However, this time through it was more than just Etheridge with a piano and guitar, but rather a fully revved three-piece band to cover most of last year’s retrospective, The Road Less Traveled, along with a handful of old album cuts and oddities. Rather than sticking to the same list every evening, Etheridge is providing an ample amount of variety all tour, leaving fans wondering what she might pull out of her bag that they haven’t heard in awhile, or in the case of recent single “I Run For Life,” for the very first time.
Considering the singer-songwriter is a recent cancer survivor, that track was especially empowering, serving as a perseverance anthem of sorts, but performed with such might and grit she never seemed sick in the first place. Instead of dwelling on that lower period in her life, the concert served as a celebration, not just because of the recovery, but for a career that has already stretched nearly 20 years. “Bring Me Some Water” was a rugged look to her distant past, conjuring images of Janis Joplin mixed with the insistence of Robert Plant. It was followed a few tracks later with the former’s “Piece Of My Heart,” a firestorm that would make skeptics of Etheridge’s softened sound retract their words in a heartbeat. Tunes from commercial breakthrough *Yes I Am* may have just tipped their 10-year anniversary, but remain compelling forces, especially the blustery jam of “Come To My Window” and the blues-smacked “I’m The Only One.” Thankfully Etheridge also dusted off “Letting Go,” her break-up ballad performed solo on a grand piano, recalling her early days of performing at the Park West.
The night wasn’t without its mistakes, including the unfortunate exclusion of “Similar Features,” a vital live cut that would’ve surely translated with aggressive abandon. It would’ve been welcome in place of the slightly sluggish selections “Angels Would Fall” or the mistake-laden “You Can Sleep While I Drive,” where the band was often several steps ahead of Etheridge. Other than these instances, she was a well balanced entertainer, cherry picking many of her prime cuts across sincere storytelling and regular nods of gratitude. While Etheridge could easily be a diva at this stage of the game, she never forgets her fawningly faithful audience, and used her Windy City stop to not only give them what they deserved, but rejoice at her new lease on life.
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