Review: Melissa Etheridge rocks the crowd at PrideFest event

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Without question, it was the gayest Melissa Etheridge concert ever.

The gutsy singer-songwriter came out of the closet 20 years ago, but Saturday night was her coming out at a gay pride event, and she reveled in it.

The first words out of her mouth when she hit the stage on a festive Liberty Avenue, with her lean blues rock band already in gear, were "I...AM...GAAAYYY!"

We can assume that's not the typical first line of "Fearless Love." What followed was a combination pep rally, therapy session and set of songs that said "I am gay woman hear me roar."

Despite being a proud lesbian icon for decades, the 51-year-old Ms. Etheridge isn't necessarily the natural choice for a PrideFest. She's an earnest blues-rocker who fancies herself a lady Boss at a street party that worships the disco diva.

On this night, though, not only did she play up the sexuality of songs like "Meet Me in the Back," she threw some funk and glitter into the set. "I Want to Come Over" melted into "Be My Baby;" "Come to My Window" offered a peek of Donna Summer's "Love to Love You;" and "The Wanting of You" took a detour to "Funky Town."

Late in the set she returned to the late Queen of Disco with pieces of "Last Dance" and "Hot Stuff." Making sure she hit all the bases, the cancer survivor even teased Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" on the way to "I Run For Life."

Between and during songs, she advocated for gay pride ("If you have not come out, I strongly recommend [it]"; gay rights ("We should have the freedom to mess up our lives like everyone else," she said of marriage); and gay fun ("They're just jealous we have more fun - and we look good doing it!")

It's worth pointing out here that Liberty Avenue was a mardi gras of lesbians dancing and embracing and gay men chilling in skin-tight clothes. Or just bikini underwear. Some were hanging out two blocks from the action, enjoying the camaraderie and colorful drinks. Ms. Etheridge's throaty voice projected all the way back there.

In one of the evening's most impassioned moments, she belted out "I am love, I am hope, I am light, I am perfect!" on "Silent Legacy." Also spreading through the streets and alleys of a bustling Downtown was the ZZ Top grind of "Nervous," which she introduced as her response to Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl."

Ms. Etheridge went on an hour after advertised, so long after Girl Talk and Boyz II Men had finished across the river, her party was still rocking with her jamming guitar solos and even jumping behind the drums. I think she had as much fun as anybody.

She repeated that she played this fest, not ones in LA or New York, because Pittsburgh "showed me the money." It's hard to say she didn't deliver.

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Scott Mervis: or at 412-263-2576.


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