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Pop Music Reviews : Melissa Etheridge Takes a Bluesy Vein at the Roxy

October 13, 1988|CHRIS WILLMAN

"This is a love song," announced a smiling Melissa Etheridge, introducing a tune midway through her ravenously well-received, sold-out show Tuesday at the Roxy. And for a moment, this pronouncement set up expectations that she might at last sing a lyric about being in love, as opposed to another song about the ugly aftermath of having been in love and then dumped.

She continued. "But this is a love song about when love gets all bad and love gets all rotten. . . ." Ah, in other words, a love song like every one of Etheridge's other love songs. Yes, the woman does fancy herself a blues singer, and if she's capable of writing a ditty in which she's anything other than a woefully wronged woman, she's not ready to show it to the world yet. Unrequited desire and jealousy are time-tested rock song themes, but Etheridge really doth protest way, way too much.

If her theme is monotonic, Etheridge's voice is anything but. Her debut album's "Like the Way I Do" may have the most electrifying vocal phrasing of any rock record this year--and she was no less potent live as she ferociously and expertly strummed her acoustic guitar, alternately spitting out or slyly rolling each angry word in defense of her inherent worthiness. Pity the fool who leaves this Joplin-esque fury behind.

Etheridge employed the most minimal and tasteful of backing bands (bass, drums, very spare electric guitar and synthesizer). After years of solo shows around Los Angeles, she seems hesitant to beef up her sound too much but obviously wants to rock out a bit more.

Still, only in the last few numbers did the instrumentation grow as fiery as the lyrical rage. Etheridge has a voice that's certainly going to be around a while. If she could just write a song or two in which she's the dumper, instead of the dumpee inviting her ex-lover to take another little piece of her heart, babe.

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