If you’ve ever attended a Melissa Etheridge concert, you know that she is a consummate entertainer. Her casual and playful stage banter results in a relaxed and friendly rapport with the audience. She’s also a performer who comes fully alive when she is on a stage, singing and playing guitar and generally rocking out. Etheridge comes across as lighthearted and joyful, qualities that shine through, even on the most serious of songs.
On her new DVD/CD package A Little Bit of ME: Live In L.A. (Shout Factory), Etheridge does a splendid job of capturing that energy over the course of more than two hours. She plays some new songs and lots of fan favorites. She is even joined onstage by the band Delta Rae on the songs “I’m The Only One” and “Monster.” We spoke with the out music legend about the live set and more in advance of her August 22 appearance at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Georgia Voice: A Little Bit of Me: Live in L.A. is your third live album. How do you know when it’s the right time to release a live album? Melissa Etheridge: I don’t think I know when it’s a good time [laughs] to release a live album. I think the opportunity presented itself. One of the main reasons I did was because I had a whole new band, new musicians. So the music pops and it sparkles and it’s new. Even if you have the Lucky Live or solo live, it’s not this band. And I think I’m getting better. It’s like, “see where I am now!” I don’t know when it’s time. I just knew that this was a new band, this was a great tour and the perfect opportunity.
The DVD opens with a Kansas tornado. Being from the same place as Dorothy Gale, did The Wizard of Oz have special meaning to you growing up? Yeah! I totally remember that we’d watch it (on TV) at the same time every year, right around Halloween. Being from Kansas, “We’re not in Kansas anymore” is the only thing that Kansas had until high school when we had the band Kansas. That was it. Coming out here (to California), I never realized how iconic the movie is (to the gay community); all the undertones. I would say, “I’m from Kansas. I got here via tornado.”
You’ve been performing songs such as “Bring Me Some Water” and “Like The Way I Do,” both included on the DVD, for more than 25 years. How do you keep them interesting and fresh for yourself as a performer and for the audiences? You can see on the DVD, those songs, especially “Like The Way I Do,” it goes into improvisation. I love that part of it. I love guitar playing. I wrote both of those songs when I was still playing in the bars. When I was playing it for 10 people, wishing they’d want to hear it. Now when I play it, thousands of people scream and holler and know the song. It’s like, “Yeah, this is what I wanted. That’s what I asked for.” So it’s fun every time.
Do you make an effort to perform at least one song from each of your dozen studio albums or has it become impossible to do that? It is kind of impossible to do that. I wish I could. A two hour set is like15 songs. Five or six of them are the hits I want to play. That only leaves time to do a few new numbers, I usually try to get extra songs from the first, second, third and fourth albums because those are the ones that I think people really listen to over and over. I’ll throw in something from those other years in between [laughs]. I’ll try to throw in something from Fearless Love or Breakdown or Lucky. It just depends on the audience.
Is there one song more than any other that you, personally, want to be remembered for? More than any other? It kind of depends on where you are. If you go overseas, that one song is “Bring Me Some Water.” That was really a hit over there. “Bring Me Some Water” was huge in Europe and Australia and Canada. It’s different everywhere.
Earlier we talked about Kansas. It was fascinating to watch what you found about your family on “Who Do You Think You Are?” Are you glad that you participated in that show? I loved doing that so much! Believe me, when I saw that house in the end; that blew my mind. When the guy said that the house was still standing in that little town in Missouri; it’s unbelievable. There are all these old houses. They’ve really kept it. It’s amazing. It really made my past come to life. When you start to realize that your ancestors were real people with real stories and challenges and choices, it puts your own life into perspective.
Have you started writing songs for your next studio album? Yes. I went back in to the studio for two or three days and recorded a couple of songs. We’re thinking and we’re seeing what people are loving. Nothing I can nail down or tell you about right now. But I’m always thinking about what’s next.
Melissa Etheridge August 22, 2015 at 8 p.m. Atlanta Botanical Garden www.ticketalternative.com