There was a stage rush Thursday night at the Ordway. An actual stage rush. Probably the first-ever at St. Paul’s upscale music theater. And a fan even jumped onstage.
No harm to Melissa Etheridge. The fan was intercepted and Etheridge continued to rock.
At 55, Etheridge still has leather lungs. She can belt with undiminished power, like Janis Joplin on steroids. She’s not much on vocal nuance but demonstrated that she can dial it down effectively, as evidenced on the Springsteen-like “You Can Sleep While I Drive” and a cover of William Bell’s “Any Other Way.”
The Bell number is featured on Etheridge’s new album, “Memphis Rock and Soul.” She plugged the album but offered only four numbers from it – including a respectful cover of the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself” and the blues chestnuts “Rock Me Baby” and “Born Under a Bad Sign” (which she said “Eric Crapton” did and then made fun of embarrassing herself with her verbal faux pas).
Two things stood out about Etheridge in her 1¾-hour performance: Her friendliness and her vocal passion.
She was chatty, saying how 2-degrees below zero was noticeably warmer than 12-below the night before in Winnipeg. She pointed out that her wife is a “Golden Gopher.” (Although not mentioned by name, Linda Wallem, co-creator of “Nurse Jackie,” went to the U of M.)
Etheridge reminisced about her first gig after the release of her debut album in 1988. It was at First Avenue in Minneapolis in front of 50 people. “The stage was massive,” she recalled. “I was terrified.”
She certainly commanded the stage at the Ordway, with some strong guitar work and uber-emotional vocalizing on such hits as “Bring Me Some Water” and “The Only One.” And the crowd got as worked up as Etheridge did.