This event was advertised as a solo show, and technically it was. Melissa Etheridge brought no band with her Wednesday to the Uptown Theater.
But she did bring an arsenal of guitars, a slew of pedals and other gadgets and a few percussion instruments, all of which she deployed to give her songs ballast, bottom and heft during a two-hour show that spanned a catalog that is now approaching 30 years old.
A native of Leavenworth, Etheridge spent some of her formative music years in Kansas City, and she reminisced about those times throughout the show, citing old haunts like the Magic Pan, the Lavender Lounge in the Granada Royale (now an Embassy Suites hotel) and the Westport record store Penny Lane, where she bought her first Joan Armatrading album decades ago. This was Etheridge’s first performance at the Uptown, but she recalled attending a Tom Waits concert at the theater decades ago.
She opened with “All-American Girl,” a stock Etheridge rock anthem about a woman trying to get through life’s many tribulations, then “Take My Number,” a track from her latest album, “This is M.E.” She performed both on guitar, solo-acoustic style.
Before “If I Wanted To,” she introduced the drum she had bought Tuesday at Big Dude’s, a music store just south of the Uptown. She used that drum, a cajon (box drum) and a tambourine to make loops of beats, over which she sang and played guitar, in this case one of two double-neck electrics.
Etheridge still has a powerful voice, and her bellows and wails filled the theater on favorites like “Must Be Crazy for Me,” “I Want to Come Over” and “Come to My Window,” all of which drew loud ovations and sing-alongs from a crowd of about 1,000.
But she showed some vocal nuance, too, on ballads like “Fourth Street Feeling,” an ode to her hometown, and her lovely cover of Armatrading’s “The Weakness In Me,” both of which she performed at the piano. After recalling a talent show back in her high school days, she covered “Mr. Bojangles,” but left out the verse about the dog dying.
She has polished her guitar skills and wasn’t shy about showing them off, turning a few songs into extended instrumental jams. One or two went on a bit too long, like the five minute-plus jam in the middle of “Chrome-Plated Heart.” On “I’m the Only One,” she played the blues harp after inserting several measures of “Kansas City.” For “Monster,” she pulled out her resonator guitar and played some gritty leads with a bottleneck slide.
“Bring Me Some Water” ended the set. Etheridge dispensed with the gadgets and performed it solo with just her 12-string. She returned for one encore, hurling herself into “Like the Way I Do,” another booming rock anthem about love and lust that was wrought with heartache. Nonetheless, it prompted another outburst of joy from an audience that was thrilled to be part of this homecoming.
All-American Girl; Take My Number; If I Wanted To; Must Be Crazy for Me; I Want to Come Over; Fourth Street Feeling; Your Little Secret; Like a Preacher; Mr. Bojangles; Come to My Window; Chrome-Plated Heart; The Weakness in Me; I’m the Only One; Monster; Bring Me Some Water. Encore: Like the Way I Do.