Fashion experts agree that the 1990’s are trending; jean jackets are back. That didn’t explain the sea of denim and crimped hair at the Pabst Theater Wednesday night. Singer-songwriter and rock icon Melissa Etheridge ended her six month “This is M.E.” tour as a solo show in the quaint, interpersonal venue.
“Milwaukee, you are always a great audience,” Etheridge said. “I’m very chatty because I’m on the way home tomorrow.” Releasing her 13th studio album, this tour catered to her diversity as a solo artist, while still playing with her full band, and even co-headlining with other greats like Blondie and Joan Jett.
“There’s going to be a little bit of magic,” she said as the beat continued long after she stopped playing. Utilizing a new looper pedal, she overlaid every song with her own beat, rhythms, and playful riffs, bouncing from Cajon to tambourine to harmonica and back again to one of her six guitars onstage. Nestled beneath the low light of the red-orange and blue-green lava lamps, she grabbed one. “It’s my favorite, don’t tell the others,” she whispered. “It’s aquamarine.”
Playing originals from her very first album through her latest, Etheridge brought the crowd to their feet with a contagious energy for the better part of the show. Her piano songs had a haunting and punching resonance in the dim-lit red and gold hall. Her cover of “Weakness in Me” originally by Joan Armatrading, inspired thunderous cheers and applause. “I used to play this song in the bars back when you could hear me play for four hours a night for a dollar.” She recounted.
More than anything, Etheridge seemed to be having as much fun as the crowd. “When you’re over fifty, you can’t get me.” Joking that mistakes just can’t catch up with you as quickly as they did in our headstrong youths. Since the release of her first, self-entitled album in 1988, she has boasted her rebellious, can and will-do attitude to claim success in an ever changing industry.
“All the sudden I found myself in competition with like, Britney Spears.” She laughed. “But sometimes, you just find some fun.” She attests to a lifetime of good times (and bad) through love songs like “I’m the Only one”, lust songs-“I Want to Come Over” and songs meant to share her strongest convictions. Aside from the obvious appeal of her sexy, lady on lady love ballads, tunes like “Uprising of Love” are direct sentiments towards her activism against LGTBQ oppression (this one in particular directed at Russia’s misdeeds.) A symbol of hope also in the cancer community, she acknowledged one fan’s “2 Years Cancer Free” sign with a smile and look of encouragement.
For a crowd well out of their teen years, there was no lack of fist pumping, rock-ons, and singing along for her closing encore “Like the way I do” on one of her signature Ovation twelve-strings. Die-hard fans waited by the tour bus for one last autograph and glimpse of the rock goddess. Then there she was, up close, sunglasses at night in typical rocker fashion. “Just keep doing what you’re doing, and people will love what you do.” She said, imparting one last bit of wisdom before she boarded the bus towards Chicago, to take the long-awaited flight home to L.A.