Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wide awake and fully revived


Litchik has a confession to make: concerts often make her tired and grumpy, hence she avoids them most of the time. But an opportunity recently presented itself that was too good (and difficult) to turn down: Melissa Etheridge: The Revival Tour at the Chicago Theater. Litchik and her partner, Funderwoman, were going to be there this particular weekend visiting friends anyway, so why not fill their entire dance cards?

Of course, the usual doubts that many concert-haters have started creeping in as soon as tickets were purchased. First and foremost: why the hell are concerts so expensive? $140 for two tickets in the upper balcony seemed excessive, but say this aloud to any friends or family and you automatically earn the moniker of Mildred and the reputation of a penny-pinching 90-year-old tightwad who likes to remind everyone that a loaf of bread once cost $0.79, fifty cents more than a gallon of gas.

Then came the angst and anxiety over the venue: could the seats be found easily? Would Melissa actually be visible from them? Would the bathrooms be conveniently nearby? Would any exes suddenly appear, given that this appeared to be the Lesbian Event of the Year? Finally, fear about the show itself always produces nearly impossible expectations. For $140, the music better be live, the performer entertaining, the band tight, and the experience unforgettable.

Happily, the Chicago Theater is a great venue, the balcony seats were close enough to see the performers' faces, the bathrooms were close by, and the Melissa Etheridge Revival Tour did not disappoint.

Etheridge is out promoting her latest album, The Awakening, but she also mixed in plenty of classic tunes throughout the night. In fact, most of the concert was held together by a narrative thread Etheridge wove between songs. Unfortunately, much of what she said between songs was pretty hard to understand thanks to a not-so-great sound engineer and a muddy mix, but a terrific band, featuring Philip Sayce on blistering lead guitar and Fritz Lewak keeping flawlessly energetic time on the drums, gave a best-of performance to be proud of, not to mention some impressive guitar gymnastics (see 1:11 and 2:14 in the video):



Etheridge's narrative began with her early years in Levenworth, Kansas ("All There Is," "Nowhere to Go") and followed with an explanation of wanting to leave the small town behind for a place that could hold bigger dreams. Like so many American free spirits before her, she went west ("California"), and here, she had her share of fun and trouble, especially in the area of relationships ("No Souvenirs," "An Unexpected Rain," "Bring Me Some Water"). Realizing it was time to settle down at 30, she thought she found the one ("I Want To Come Over"). But the relationship was doomed from the start ("Enough of Me," "If I Wanted To"). This provided one of the biggest thrills of the night: Etheridge laid all of the dirt out on the line and totally rocked it out on what is arguably her biggest hit, "I'm The Only One."

Fortunately, Etheridge's tale does not end there. After her first marriage ended, Etheridge found a true and healthy love ("Kiss Me,""All the Way To Heaven"). She finally got it together, but the universe dropped a bomb on her: breast cancer. The rest of the set list really was the heart of the show, from her ode to all who have been touched by cancer ("I Run For Life") to her philosophy of religion ("Kingdom of Heaven"), from her hope for clarity and spirituality ("Message to Myself") to her wish for change for all ("Imagine That"), Etheridge gave a show that went beyond a mere performance: it was her laying bare her soul so that everyone there could take some insight and even comfort from her own trials and tribulations.
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