May 11, 2012
Norman, OK USA
Review by Bob Birdwell
Photos by Vernon L. Gowdy, III
In the intensely red state of Oklahoma, there are few opportunities for its usually covert gay community to let their collective guard down. But on a drizzly, cool and overcast night in Norman, the warmth and ambiance inside the Riverwind Casino's Showplace Theater opened its arms to greet a gathering of euphoric Melissa Etheridge fans.
Tonight, the crowd inside would be subject to an evening filled with great music from one of rock's less polarizing, yet iconic musical legends. It would be an evening of uninhibited celebration and affirmation of a lifestyle well outside of the mainstream. This overt celebration of freedom, when juxtaposed with news that the state's first female governor just signed legislation allowing its citizens to openly carry firearms, was a symbol of the many cultural dichotomies that accompany red states. But that was the big picture outside. Inside, Melissa Etheridge was occupying her own time and space reserved strictly for her legion of disparate and diverse fans.
The house lights began to dim proportional to the rising cheers of a hungry audience. With rhythmically long strides timed perfectly with the opening riffs of "Fearless Love," Etheridge emerged from the darkness into the warm lights of the theater stage. Leaning far over the front of her Ovation 12-string, her long blond mane nearly obscured her face from view. Moving up to the center stage mic, the 'Un-Devine Miss M' suddenly threw her hair back and exploded in song to the raucous delight of the crowd.
"This is the one, right?" she mused. "This is the one? You know for sure? Are we finally old enough to have mature relationships? Finally, no more stalking, no more, no more! I want to come over!" Perhaps this song, more than any other, exemplified the theme and tone of the evening. She would include a notable mix of songs from the Fearless Love album and other, more iconic songs such as, "I'm the Only One" and "Bring Me Some Water" and "Come to My Window."
Etheridge was warm and inviting. She was clearly enjoying the evening as much as her audience. She moved across the breadth of the Showplace's wide stage throughout the evening, engaging as many of her fans as possible. Her voice was strong and outstanding, the backing band was tight. The combination produced a dynamic show that kept the audience engaged from beginning to tend.
On several occasions, such as "Black as the Night", Etheridge would demonstrate her impressive guitar skills. She even shared the neck of lead guitarist Peter Thorn's Fender from behind him as they simultaneously played dueling solos. The remaining supporting cast members were drummer Blair Sinta and bassist Brent Simon.
Etheridge's place as one of rock's leading ladies remains solid. She treated the crowd as a mother would her children. Her exchanges centered a round relationships and the courage to be 'who you are.' They were words this crowd clearly wanted - and expected - to hear. The front half of the audience never sat down; always danced, sang all the songs and bounced and screamed like adolescent teens. The highlight of tonight's gathering would come with the song, "Precious Pain". This one was the proverbial alter call of the night. Before it was over, the entire front part of the house would be covered with outstretched arms reaching for their heroine on stage. The scene was similar to the faithful paying homage to its patron saint. Perhaps that's exactly what her presence tonight instilled.
The evening concluded with the encore piece "Like the Way I Do". This classic piece of work, from her debut album, morphed into a lengthy rhythmic and hypnotic frenzy that left the audience spent. When it concluded, there was nothing left to say. With a collective bow, a smiling Etheridge and her ensemble disappeared into the darkness from whence they came.
Your Little Secret
Come to My Window
The Wanting of You
I Run for Life
I'm the Only One
Bring Me Some Water
Gently We Row
Like the Way I Do