Sunday, July 21, 2002


Pat Hayashi, left, got Melissa Etheridge to sign a guitar backstage before her concert last night. The autographed guitar was the prize for winning a contest in the Star-Bulletin.

Etheridge show opens
a window to her soul

Searing renditions of the singer's best
songs make her first isle visit a memorable one

By John Berger

The lights went down, the crowd stood up, and Melissa Etheridge introduced herself to Honolulu with one of the year's best concerts Friday night in Blaisdell Arena.

Etheridge is no stranger to Hawaii musically, not after seven albums and two Grammys, but it was the first time she'd performed here.

"It's not on the way to anywhere," she explained during the tight two-hour show. The crowd, just about enough people to fill the floor seats and risers, cheered enthusiastically. Many sang along with her -- "Bring Me Some Water" and "I'm The Only One" in particular.

Etheridge didn't mention the circumstances that inspired her most recent album, "Skin." But her performance spoke for itself in expressing not only great passion and great pain, but also the experience of catharsis and healing. She opened and closed with "Skin" songs. "I Want To Be In Love" was a powerful opening number, and several subsequent selections addressed the pain of longing and the agony of loss. But the show on Friday was a celebration and not a wake.

She's survived and moved forward, and is having a great time in Hawaii. She talked about her experiences here -- sunburn, riding one of those tourist scooters -- and, while revisiting many darker moments, shared a positive vibe with the fans.

Etheridge shared a marvelous cross-section of her work from the past two decades. She included songs from all her albums -- "No Souvenirs," "Ain't It Heavy," "All American Girl," and "I Want To Come Over" among them -- and they fit together perfectly.

Etheridge worked for most of the night with three musicians: drummer Kenny Aronoff, bassist Mark Browne (both from the "Skin" sessions) and guitarist James Harrah. A fourth, whom Etheridge identified as "Trace the Wonder Boy," occasionally contributed from off-stage when he wasn't bringing out her guitars. The trio was excellent. So was the concert sound.

Etheridge changed the mood by doing "Brave And Crazy" with Aronoff as her only accompanist. He joined her up front and started off the number conservatively, adding a bit of percussion on a drum pad. The tempo and emotional intensity grew and grew, and he finally began pounding out the rhythm on her guitar. Etheridge is an intensely visual entertainer on her own, and the camaraderie with her musicians added another dimension to the performance.

She was also impressive when working solo. "Nowhere To Go" was a poignant look back at her experiences growing up in Leavenworth, Kan.

Etheridge and her musicians left the stage after "I'm The Only One," but returned to close the show with a powerful double encore. Few songs surpass "Like The Way I Do," a song from her first album, in articulating the torment that comes with knowing your lover is with someone else at that very moment. Etheridge delivered it with searing intensity.

She then came full circle, returning to the music of "Skin" and closing the show with "Heal Me." No knowledge of Etheridge's personal life was required to appreciate her final message -- she's moving forward, past the pain, into brighter and better times, and surrendering "to this evolution."

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