Music News & Reviews

Melissa Etheridge brings her solo style to the PAC at Cal Poly

Melissa Etheridge became a hit on the alternative music scene with an eponymous debut album in 1988.
Melissa Etheridge became a hit on the alternative music scene with an eponymous debut album in 1988.

Melissa Etheridge still knows how to write a mean rock song. But you won’t catch the two-time Grammy Award winner penning raw, confessional anthems like “Bring Me Some Water” or “Like the Way I Do” these days.

“I’m in my 50s now, with four children,” Etheridge, 54, said. “I’m not sitting in my bedroom at 27 years old singing about my girlfriends.” Rather, the openly gay entertainer said, she’s more interested in exploring ideas of identity and interconnectivity.

Etheridge will stop in San Luis Obispo on Monday on her tour This Is M.E. Solo, which finds the blues rocker performing stripped-down, solo versions of familiar favorites as well as cuts from her 13th studio album, “This Is M.E.”

“It really gives me a place where I can really get very intimate with my audience,” Etheridge said, “and I can tour smaller places” such as the Central Coast.

A Leavenworth, Kan., native who now calls Los Angeles home, Etheridge broke out on the underground music scene with the release of her self-titled debut album in 1988. Her hit single “Bring Me Some Water,” in which the narrator describes her searing pain at imagining her lover in the arms of someone else, earned Etheridge her first Grammy nomination.

Following up “Melissa Etheridge” with 1989’s “Brave and Crazy” and 1992’s “Never Enough,” the performer achieved mainstream success with the release of the multi-platinum-selling album “Yes I Am” in 1993 — featuring the chart toppers “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window.” The latter earned Etheridge her second Grammy for best rock vocal performance, coming on the heels of her Grammy-winning song “Ain’t It Heavy.”

Etheridge embarked on her first full-blown solo tour in 2001. At the time, she was supporting her seventh studio album, “Skin,” released in the wake of her painful breakup with Julie Cypher, her partner of 12 years.

“I was so scared. ... I hadn’t played solo since I had been in the bars in the ’80s,” Etheridge recalled.

Much has happened since then.

To name just a few milestones, the performer has battled breast cancer, penned a memoir (“The Truth Is …: My Life in Love and Music”) and won an Academy Award for her song “I Need to Wake Up,” featured in the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” An outspoken advocate of environmental issues, gay rights and medical marijuana, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.

“I am so much more confident now and so much of a better entertainer,” said Etheridge, who also performed some solo gigs in 2009. “I certainly take life lighter.”

When she sings her older songs now, “We have fun with them on stage,” she said. “We leave (the emotion) there. I don’t have to live it.”

So far, Etheridge said, audiences have been equally receptive to “This Is M.E.,” which was released in September 2014.

“When I do the new songs, they’re so well received already,” she said. “I do remind them (the audience members) that I’m still making music and I want it to be music that will be with them for a while.”

In the song “Monster,” for instance, she grapples with the difficulties of being different, comparing herself to a monster “full of desire, full of love” and asking, “I rise so strong. Is that so wrong?”

Etheridge said she wrote the song after attending a meeting at the United Nations at which gay rights were recognized as human rights. As she was leaving the organization’s New York City headquarters, she caught a glimpse of the sculpture “Good Defeats Evil,” which depicts St. George spearing a dragon made from American and Soviet missiles — and had a revelation about the people that society labels “monsters.”

“Every time I play it (the song), it still vibrates with that life. I just love it,” she said. “It’s, like, ‘You know what? Embrace the part of you that people think is so different, that they’re afraid of.’ ”

Etheridge’s song “A Little Bit of Me” encourages listeners to recognize the common bond they share.

“As I live my life and go along this journey and meet everyone in the world, I’m just struck by how amazingly different we are and, in that, how we are all the same. There’s this amazing oneness,” said the performer, who penned the song on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. “If we can just understand that, it can be transformative.”

“This Is M.E.” also addresses romance and relationships. In “Take My Number,” Etheridge imagines a flirtatious encounter in a bar.

“Usually on every album, there with be a song where I think ‘What if I went back to Kansas?’ ” the singer explained, as she does in “Take My Number.” “I’m both characters (in the song). I’m the one that’s the one that’s just been divorced with kids, and I’m the one who’s going, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ ”

Etheridge debuted “Who Are You Waiting For,” a moving love song that she wrote for wife Linda Wallem, at their wedding in 2014.

“It was an amazing experience to sing it for her,” Etheridge said. “It was one of the toughest performances I’ve ever done. I was thinking, ‘What if I start crying and I can’t continue?’ It (was) very emotional.”

According to Etheridge, her music stems directly from her own life.

“It’s all about experience,” she said. “I couldn’t have written any of these songs (without it).”

Melissa Etheridge

7:30 p.m. Monday

Cohan Center, Cal Poly

$35 to $80

756-4849 or www.pacslo.org

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