Review: Melissa Etheridge And Elle King At Red Butte Gardens

I have been to my share of concerts at Red Butte Gardens. Something about this one hit different. On its face, it was a sold-out Red Butte Gardens Outdoor Concert Series show, packed wall-to-wall with the standard Pendleton blankets, Tommy Bahama low-back chairs and Yeti coolers, but the audience hadn’t turned up for a concert—they’d turned up for a sabbath. They were here to gorge their souls on the fiery words and rock and roll of two women who are unapologetically themselves and double-dare others to be the same—Elle King and Melissa Etheridge.

Before I get too into the concert, I feel I must address a crime committed against Melissa Etheridge. One that I almost predicted. At Monday night’s concert, as I stood in awe of Etheridge absolutely shredding on a 12-string guitar, I remarked to my partner that it was obscene how many “best of” music lists on which she’d been left off. Now, as of Wednesday, we can add one more to the pile. 

Rolling Stone was already sashaying into tricky territory by trying to narrow down “The 50 Most Inspirational LGBTQ Songs of All Time,” but when they left off Etheridge’s “Come To My Window,” even Etheridge took note, tweeting out, “Dear Rolling Stone…was it something I said?” 

Etheridge released “Come To My Window” in 1993, on her Yes I Am album, around the same time she came out publicly as a lesbian. The song, with its potent imagery and palpable yearning, earned Etheridge the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and it still deserves all of the play it gets today. “I don’t care what they think / I don’t care what they say / What do they know about this love anyway?” Is still as resonant a line for people seeking non-hetero relationships as it was 30 years ago. 

Elle King, Red Butte Gardens, June `26, 2023
Elle King, Red Butte Gardens, June 26, 2023

Elle King kicked off the night with the announcement to the audience that she had just bought new jeans in Salt Lake City. A point she later followed up on by posing to the audience, “I know what you’re thinking—she may have got some new jeans today but has she acclimated? No.” And went right into the song, “I’m Not Drunk, I’m Just Drinking.” In the middle of which, she quipped,  “When you factor in the altitude, that first drink is sinking in.”

That exchange exemplifies King’s casual and loose style, warming up the crowd with that and well-known jams like “Ex’s & Oh’s,” coming right out of “Chain Smokin, Hard Drinkin, Woman.” After a cover, she told the crowd, “That deserves a shot because you sat through that,” a pun off of the next song: “Worth A Shot,” a new song from her 2023 album Come Get Your Wife. The songs from the album take a more country swing from King’s previous, rock-centered studio albums, Love Stuff (2015) and Shake the Spirit (2018). King herself seems to be leaning more that way, judging by the countrified version of “America’s Sweetheart” (originally a boot-stomping rock anthem off Love Stuff) that she performed at Red Butte.

King’s set wasn’t all fast and loose, taking a more thoughtful turn as the sun started to set. She performed another song off of her new album, “Lucky,” which is the sort of reflective, aching-but-ultimately-triumphant retrospective that we expect from musical artists after performing for more than a decade. “Now that we’re in our emotions, let’s stay there,” King said, following that up with another new song, “Love Go By,” a soulful track from Come Get Your Wife.

King was back to her raucous, irreverent self by the end of the set, performing her new album’s lead single “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”, recorded as a duet with country artist Miranda Lambert, for the encore. Red Butte Gardens was a stop on the tour of Elle King’s new album, Come Get Your Wife

Melissa Etheridge, Red Butte Gardens, June 26, 2023
Melissa Etheridge, Red Butte Gardens, June 26, 2023

Melissa Etheridge is all rock and roll—all black hat, leather pants and jacket. She plays lead guitar on her songs—alternating between six and 12-string guitars seamlessly—while still absolutely wailing. At 62-years-old, it’s possible her expressive voice has only gotten more raw and powerful with time. She opened her set with “Your Little Secret,” the title track off of her 1995 album. 

Etheridge covered “On Broadway,” a wink to the fact that her theatrical memoir of Etheridge’s life will be staged on Broadway later this fall. Etheridge says the song is also a throwback to the days she used to “play lounges and dream.” 

She hit some of the most moving and driven of her songs from the late 80s and throughout the 90s. About halfway through the set, during “Crazy For Me,” all of the members of the band ripped out some old-school rock solos, something that punctuated almost every song in the set—a masterclass in rock and blues guitar. During the encore, “Like The Way I Do,” not only did Etheridge lead the song on her 12-string, but take a turn on the drums (she pulled out the harmonica throughout the night, too). 

At one point, she implored the audience, “Be strong, speak true, choose peace and only love.” The words could be a motto for Etheridge’s repertoire of raw emotion—sometimes gut-wrenching, sometimes explosive, sometimes wry but always real. 

Melissa Etheridge set list:

  • “Your Little Secret,” Your Little Secret (1995) 
  • “No Souvenirs,” Brave and Crazy (1989)
  • “Royal Station 4/16,” Brave and Crazy (1989)
  • “I Want to Come Over,” Your Little Secret (1995)  
  • “On Broadway” (originally by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller)
  • “Crazy For Me,” Never Enough (1992)
  • “Born Under A Bad Sign,” Memphis Rock and Soul (2016) (originally by Albert King)
  • “Chrome Plated Heart,” Melissa Etheridge (1998)
  • “Come To My Window,” Yes I Am (1993)
  • “Bring me Some Water,” Melissa Etheridge (1998)
  • “I’m The Only One,” Melissa Etheridge (1998)
  • “Like The Way I Do,” Melissa Etheridge (1998)

Christie Porter
Christie Porterhttps://christieporter.com/
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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