An otherwise sleepy Sunday in Spokane couldn't keep two badass rockers from bringing the party to Northern Quest last night. Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge's co-headlining concert, the second of such tours they've brought to the Inland Northwest, was the kind of showcase that engenders one particular thought: "Wow, they've still got it."
Etheridge kicked things off on a high note with a "Good to see you again, Airway Heights," announcing it was her third time at the venue. She then put on a hugely entertaining show, defined by the agreeable charm, husky growl and screaming guitar licks she's long been known for. It was a setlist of songs both old and new, from the '90s adult contemporary staple "Come to My Window" to the call-and-response title track of her latest album The Medicine Show.
Backed by a tight three-piece band, Etheridge defies you to take your eyes off her. That was certainly the case as she closed with the one-two punch of her Top 10 hit "I'm the Only One" — during which she busted out a harmonica — and the '80s single "Like the Way I Do," which found her playing around on the drum kit. It was a dynamic and engaging set, despite there only being four people on a giant stage.
Pat Benatar came roaring out shortly thereafter, lighting right into the raucous rocker "All Fired Up." And she sure was: Alongside her husband and longtime guitarist Neil Giraldo, Benatar was in top form, belting in ways even her recorded output hasn't always put front and center. She sounds terrific.
The duo was backed by a banner emblazoned with a giant "XL," Roman numerals signifying the 40 years Benatar and Giraldo have been collaborating (they're also celebrating their 37th wedding anniversary). They almost seemed to be playing for and off of each other, as if they're letting the audience in on a private performance.
In between the songs were the stories — about Benatar and Giraldo's time together, about the origins of their biggest hits, about their life on the road. One of those tales involved a specific and unusual riff Giraldo recalls showing to Benatar, who says she thought he was "f—-ing crazy" when she heard it. And then the hiccuping synth opener of her signature ballad "We Belong" filled the outdoor venue to thunderous applause, and Benatar admits his intuition was right.
The couple slowed things down occasionally, with just the two of them performing mostly acoustic renditions of deep cuts — "Disconnected" from the 1993 album Gravity's Rainbow — and classics, like the cabaret-style deconstruction of "Treat Me Right." But it was the final leg of the show that brought out the big guns: "You Better Run," "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," "Love Is a Battlefield." And finally an encore that closed with an unusual medley of "Heartbreaker" ("the song that started it all," Benatar said) and Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."
They might be pushing 40 years old, but what's remarkable about these songs is that they still sound as fresh and vital as ever.