As summer officially transitioned into fall, I spent the equinox watching Kesha and the Creepies perform at the Warsaw in Brooklyn. This was my third time seeing the formerly dollar-signed singer, but the first in over three years since her very public legal drama began.
For those who haven’t heard, Kesha has been trapped in legal limbo for the last few years. She sued her producer Dr. Luke, accusing him of sexual and emotional assault. Because artists have to sign their life away to labels, Kesha’s contract with Sony stipulates that she can only work with Luke– essentially forcing her to work with her rapist. The legal proceedings are ongoing, but she has been prohibited from releasing new music for almost four years.
But last night, Kesha was not about to let those problems inhibit an incredible show. She addressed the lawsuit early, telling the crowd how grateful and appreciative she was of our support. The crowd was deafeningly loud in response, with such powerful cheers and chants that Kesha at moments was on the verge of years. She noted- and I felt- the palpable love in the room. It was both a heavy moment but one of reassurance. Love always conquers hate.
Sonically, the show was pretty shocking. Even though Kesha is one of the biggest pop stars of the last decade, known for her processed, layered, electropop sound, this was purely a rock show. Gone were the usual pop stylings, replaced instead with a remarkably live band: two guitar players, a bass player, a keyboard player, and a drummer. It was pretty astounding that the complex programmed beats and sounds of Kesha’s hits were replaced with live instruments. And her vocals? Every note she sang was raw and live. She didn’t use a backing track at all. There were no overdubs. This was the real deal.
She kicked off the surprising rock show with her 2010 Number One hit “We R Who We R,” displaying the first of many new rock arrangements of her catalog. During the self-love anthem, her hype man/boyfriend Brad Ashenfelter ran around the stage vigorously waving a hybrid gay pride/American flag. After the song Kesha told the crowd that she “loves love- all kinds of love,” but also loves drugs, perfectly segueing into “Your Love Is My Drug.”
Up next was a raucous version of “Dinosaur” complete with dino-masks and choreography, followed by the first of many cover songs, the appropriately-titled “You Don’t Own Me,” originally recorded by Lesley Gore. Kesha really demonstrated her strong vocals on this song, and the lyrical parallels to her legal issues did not go unnoticed.
In a starkly personal moment, she told us that “no one can own you, because to truly own you means to own your happiness. No one can own your fucking happiness.” She made the crowd promise to never let anyone take our happiness away.
Regaining herself, she then busted out a lower vocal register to cover “Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop, one of her idols and collaborators, followed by a haunting, slowed-down version of “Till The World Ends,” a song that she wrote for Britney Spears.
Fan favorite “Boots N Boys” was next, followed by a rearranged “Blow” and “Cannibal.” During “Cannibal,” she mimed killing and eating her boyfriend. Covered in (probably) fake blood and guts, I was a little surprised to see more gore at Kesha than Black Sabbath, who I saw in August. (Albeit goreless, Sabbath was of course outstanding.)
A heavy metal version of “Take It Off” came next, which led into her monster hit “Tik Tok.” Again, it was crazy to see such a synth and production heavy pop song reworked for a live band. But it worked! And she coyly changed a lyric to reflect today’s political climate: “Boys tryna touch my junk, junk/ Fuck Donald Trump!”
After a brief faux exit, Kesha returned wearing a white outfit and a cowgirl hat for an encore. First up was a jangly country version of “Timber,” her most recent hit with Pitbull. Next was an absolutely riveting version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Accompanied by just a bassline and a hint of guitar, Kesha belted the emotional lyrics, showing off a vocal prowess that she never gets enough credit for.
The penultimate song of the night was a cover of “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You,” the country standard that Kesha’s mom, Pebe Sebert, wrote many years ago. Kesha introduced the song as having been sung by “Merle Haggard, who recently parted, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash.” Kesha’s version was emotionally and exceptionally sung. When she finished, she remarked, “I hate when people say I can’t sing. So there.”
Kesha closed the night with another very apt song choice, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” originally recorded by The Band. Uplifting and uptempo, the song’s poignant lyrics were a reminder of Kesha’s legal hurdles, but also of her positive attitude and hope for the future.
Covered in glitter and confetti, by the end of the show we in the crowd could feel the shared catharsis of the night’s performance. Kesha and the Creepies were magnificent, and the love in that room really cannot be understated. She left us with a piece of advice that she has used herself during her recent ordeals:
“Always have hope in your heart. I do.”