- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

However much Melissa Etheridge’s fans wanted to turn her into a political football Friday night at the 9:30 Club, the Kansas-born pop-rocker and politically active lesbian wouldn’t budge very far.

Except for a trio of vaguely homosexual-themed songs — “Silent Legacy,” “Scarecrow” and “Tuesday Morning,” the latter a tribute to Flight 93 hero Mark Bingham — Friday’s near three-hour marathon was no rally.

It was all rock show.

Anchored by powerhouse drummer Kenny Aronoff along with bassist Mark Brown and lead guitarist Phillip Sayce, Miss Etheridge could have been any of rock’s determined fortysomethings with a new album to promote and staying power to prove.

For a quiet interlude, she rummaged back into her singer-songwriter attic, playing solo piano on Joan Armatrading’s “The Weakness in Me,” quite a crowd-pleaser for those in the audience who had heard Miss Etheridge cover it before.

Friday’s 9:30 show was one of four for Miss Etheridge here in the District — a sold-out residency.

She opened with the title track and would air several other new songs, including her current adult-contemporary hit “Breathe,” which sounds like something from the Matrix-ized Liz Phair.

Fans sleepwalked through unfamiliar ballads such as “Will You Still Love Me” and “Meet Me in the Dark.” More off-putting was a guitar rave-up encore of “Giant,” introduced bombastically by the Hendrix-cribbing Mr. Sayce.

Better received were the staples, few of which Miss Etheridge held back: “Come to My Window,” “I’m the Only One,” “If I Wanted To,” “I Want to Come Over,” plus long, bluesy instrumental workouts of “Bring Me Some Water” and “Like the Way I Do.”

With an unfortunate touch of the restaurant-lounge entertainer — a wireless microphone wrapped drive-through-cashier-style around her head — Miss Etheridge was warm and chatty with the audience.

Between songs came variations on a theme of growing older, wiser, more mature in the perplexing business of love and relationships.

Of course, Miss Etheridge has never made sexuality primary to her songwriting. Her torch ballads and breakup songs have never been anything other than conventional; they could be about anybody.

She predated and doesn’t seem interested in the emerging ghettoes of alt-music such as “queercore.” Miss Etheridge’s heroes have always been icons such as Bruce Springsteen and Janis Joplin.

Miss Etheridge doesn’t match the greatness of these figures, but, as she did Friday, she tries hard — hard enough that you forget the things about her that have nothing to do with music.

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