SOMERVILLE -- "Intensity, it's never really been a problem for me," Melissa Ferrick sang in "North Carolina," her opening number at the Somerville Theatre Saturday night. That, one suspects, is an understatement. Listeners coming in from the cold were met with an emotional thaw, as the singer-songwriter wrote the book of broken love over and over again with her powerful voice and guitar.
But lightness isn't a problem for her either. After each folk-rock soul-wrencher -- and sometimes in the middle of one -- she veered into asides about "Star Trek" or the time she got caught skinny-dipping as a teenager. She cracked the crowd, and herself, up.
Then, after a burst of goofy laughter, she launched right into the next heart-on-her-sleeve song about relationships that hurt so good.
Ferrick, who grew up in Ipswich, attended Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, and is a sometime resident of Provincetown, played solo for the first half of the set, then with proficient drummer Brian Winton. She is known for her live performances, and Saturday's roller coaster ride of passion and punch lines showed why.
Driving and coaxing the notes from her guitar, she worked herself into a lather, ending one song with a rock-star leap into the air. When Ferrick sings, she does not use her inside voice. She appeared at times to be channeling Bruce Springsteen and Rickie Lee Jones simultaneously.
In her songs, Ferrick portrays herself as a reckless lover; onstage, she's a wicked flirt. Her fans are devoted, and if one or two of the songs were not as strong as the others, no one seemed to mind. After momentarily forgetting the lyrics to "All for Me" -- "I'm having a freakout in my head. I'm fine, I'm just unfocused. I'm thinking about this new automatic toothbrush that I have" -- she delivered the song with conviction, promising "to never take for granted all the love that's in my life."
The libidinous "Drive" -- it's not really about motor vehicles -- turned into driver's ed, with Ferrick offering helpful instruction via the tempo of her guitar. Winton joined in, and the two brought the song to a fast-paced, joyous, rhythmic close. On "Welcome to My Life," she finally got the crowd on its feet, where, it seemed, it had wanted to be all along.
At the end, she threw her guitar picks to the audience, had to borrow one back for an encore, and made fun of herself for the failed rock-star gesture. Then, with intensity, she sang "This Is Love" and the hopeful, fervent "Somehow We Get There." She got a standing ovation.
Piano-playing singer-songwriter Anne Heaton opened the show, with Frank Marotta Jr. on guitar and harmonies. With her witty, romantic songs and lush voice, she brought a following of her own.
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.