BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Would you want Kesha to re-enter the world of pop stardom any other way than with her middle fingers blazing while yelling, “We f****** did it!”?
A few dates into her sold-out tour celebrating the long-awaited release of her third album, “Rainbow,” Kesha strode onto the stage at the Coca-Cola Roxy Friday night with an air of defiance and giddiness and made the above proclamation to her adoring throng.
As a spaceship beamed down a palette of Skittles-colored lights, Kesha twirled in her boots, her blond mane (a weave, she told us) whipping her face, as she danced through the soul-soaked “Woman” and “Boogie Feet.”
Backed by a five-piece band and two backup singers/dancers in matching black suits and white shirts – a contrast to the polychromatic world around her otherwise – Kesha focused on her visceral new album for the first third of the 90-minute show.
The thumping tom-toms and vaguely tropical chorus powered the message of moving on in “Learn to Let Go,” and she appealed to the loners and the misunderstood with the finger-snapping ballad, “Hymn,” which she dedicated to, “the dreamers and their families.”
Kesha – who had a rare performance at Music Midtown in 2016 – maintains a robust connection with her fans, who showed their loyalty not only by giving her a No. 1 album, but by slathering themselves in enough glitter to keep the sidewalks outside the Roxy sparkling for months.
“The whole record, the whole tour, is dedicated to my fans, my Animals,” she said early in the concert, and, like a taller, scrappier Lady Gaga, she was achingly authentic in her appreciation.
Kesha is only 30, but while her initial sleaze-pop hits (“Tik Tok,” “Your Love is My Drug,” “Blah Blah Blah”) spotlighted a party girl with caked-on mascara who probably didn’t sleep for three days, her work on “Rainbow” is vulnerable and self-reflective – a perfect musical summary for someone born in L.A., raised in Nashville and recently traumatized by a seemingly never-ending legal headache with her former producer.
She can be crude – evidenced in her string of f-bombs in every grammatical formation and the crazy-fun “Let ‘Em Talk,” which owes its backbone to Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.” But that candor is exactly why fans venerate her. Well, that and her earworm songs and her commitment to humanity (“Basic human rights…that’s what this show is about…spreading love and equality” she said after the slick club anthem, “We R Who We R”).
Her supple voice can zig toward husky and zag toward girlish in the span of a song, and that range was on display throughout her set. After changing into a short dress, Kesha showcased that multi-faceted voice on the rootsy “Spaceship,” with a guitar-heavy “Timber” cleverly sandwiched into it.
Kesha and her band also gave “Your Love is My Drug” a rock heartbeat to thrilling effect, popped confetti out of a gun at the end of “Blow” and turned the venue into a hushed sanctuary as fans sang along to “Praying,” the unlikely first hit from “Rainbow.”
The singer explained that she fought her record label to release the musical lesson in self-acceptance as the initial single (most record exes operate under the ridiculous notion that listeners want to hear an uptempo song as a re-introduction to an artist).
“I felt like this was a story I had to tell you,” Kesha said.
As usual, she knows her fans. And they revere her honesty.