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Duets and a ‘sing-off’ for Melissa Etheridge and Serena Ryder

Melissa Etheridge with Serena Ryder Friday at Massey Hall in Toronto

Anywhere else, this would have been a typical established-star-with-opening-act arrangement. But at Massey Hall on Friday, Melissa Etheridge and Serena Ryder almost seemed like they were co-headlining the show.

Some of that no doubt stemmed from the number of hometown fans on hand to cheer Ryder's return to Toronto. Nor could it have hurt that the two have a hit duet, Broken Heart Sun, on the radio at the moment — a song Ryder wrote, and which the two performed on the Genie Awards telecast just the night before.

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And so, the concert was as much a celebration of similarities as a study in differences, and said a lot about the way women rock these days.

The Boys in the Band

Although she started out as a singer-songwriter strumming an acoustic guitar, Etheridge has long since transformed herself into a power-chord slinging rocker, and the all-male band she brought with her fleshed out her songs with all sorts of testosteronal flourishes, from the Baba O'Riley chords in the opening of Company to the U2-style guitar that framed Fearless Love.

But it was clearly Etheridge calling the shots, and her arrangements used the band's energy and wide-ranging dynamics to make pretty much every song seem epic. Moreover, she did her share of guitar slinging, strapping on an electric for the chugging, John Lee Hooker boogie riffs in Nervous, and bringing the house to its feet with a relentless rhythm guitar workout during Like the Way I Do.

The Girl is the Band

Even so, Ryder made it plain that you don't need a band to rock the house. All she needed was an acoustic guitar (and a tiny one at that). Strumming furiously and occasionally banging the heel of her hand on the guitar's body, Ryder not only got a groove going, but kept it flowing from her first song to her last.

Then again, given the exuberant physicality of her performance, it would be hard to miss the rhythm in Ryder's music. She shook her head like a tambourine through All for Love, and kept time with both legs through the stomping instrumental break in Brand New Love. Even Weak in the Knees, the swooniest song in her short set, was an unabashed foot-tapper.

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Hero Worship

However much Ryder might have been buoyed by her current success, she was clearly bowled over by the opportunity to tour and sing with Etheridge. "It pretty much has been a dream come true," she told the crowd.

Etheridge, for her part, was just as smitten. "I feel like she's my rock-and-roll spawn," she said after Ryder joined her for a version of Come In Through My Window, one of three duets the pair did. Naturally, Broken Heart Sun got the biggest cheers, but in many ways the real highlight came during I'm the Only One, when Etheridge challenged Ryder to a "sing-off," which found the two matching blues phrases and high notes. "Estrogen all over the floor," joked Etheridge afterward.

Canada Envy

But it wasn't just Ryder that had Etheridge in such a good mood. "I love Canada," she said at several points, while making it clear that it was the country and not its winter cold she adored. "I love Canada because here everything I love is legal-ish," she joked.

Unsurprisingly, the crowd at Massey Hall ate up the praise. After mentioning that she'd spent some time listening to bands at Canadian Music Week, Etheridge gushed, "You guys can really sing!" At another point, she assured us that "You are the nicest people in the world." She even said she'd love to live here — "but only from May to November."

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Still, it'd be hard to imagine the fan who'd consider her just a warm-weather friend.

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