Kesha Reimagines Hits at Wild, Cathartic Tour Kickoff

Kesha Reimagines Hits at Wild, Cathartic Tour Kickoff

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Kesha Reimagines Hits at Wild, Cathartic Tour Kickoff news

Kesha officially debuted her new country-rock band the Creepies with a wild Cleveland show, reimagining her hits and performing poignant covers. Credit: Joseph Banker for Rolling Stone

Nearly an hour after the doors opened for Kesha and the Creepies' sold-out Tuesday-night show at Cleveland's House of Blues, a layer of silver glitter still coated the pavement outside the venue – the remnants of fans taking care of some last-minute pre-show skin bedazzling, according to a security guard. These wayward sparkles paled in comparison to the glitz on display inside, however. The crowd came decked out in their finest club wear – sequined tube tops and headbands, ripped tights, leather miniskirts – and elaborate outfits. One man donned a gold lamé jumpsuit; a woman sported a light-up bra, tutu and furry leg warmers.

Other attendees – such as the man spotted wearing an artfully shredded dress shirt with a tie – made more pointed statements against sartorial expectations. That sense of rebellion also permeated Kesha and the Creepies' exuberant 75-minute show. Not only did the musician and her four-piece band deliver the "dirty rock & roll and country music" promised by this new venture, but they counterintuitively interpreted the tour's theme, "Fuck the World," as a cheerful middle finger to negativity.

This was obvious from the start: The dominant stage décor was a light-up sign of this phrase, rendered in a playful, Western-style font. But Kesha kept the positive vibes flowing from the night's first tune, the raucous stomp "We R Who We R." During a mid-song banter interlude, she encouraged the entire crowd to collectively flip the bird and yell the titular phrase. In the moment, the gesture resembled a giant, whooshing exhale; as the set progressed, however, it became clear that it was the first step of a long, slow catharsis – for both Kesha and the audience. The concert felt like she was drawing strength and confidence from fans' unconditional adoration, which freed her up to reshape (and reclaim) her identity in the midst of a well-publicized legal nightmare.

In practical terms, this process manifested itself via Kesha's commanding stage presence – an inspiring "True Colors" underscored her powerhouse vocal range – and reimagined, refreshed-sounding catalog songs. "Dinosaur" became a rowdier glam-punk kiss-off; fan favorite "Boots and Boys" was a sleek, disco-fied jam; and her Pitbull duet "Timber" became a laid-back, twangy number. "Blow" underwent the most dramatic transformation: It became a desolate-sounding, desert-Western trudge. Accordingly, Kesha stumbled around the stage as if being pummeled by a windstorm, before she ended the song by writhing on the stage à la her avowed idol, Iggy Pop.

Earlier in the set, she honored the icon more directly, with a faithful cover of "Nightclubbing." This version hinted at the dark side of debauchery, due to the dirge-like tempo and Kesha's vocals, which veered between vibrato-tinged desperation and jaguar screeches. A later cover of Eagles of Death Metal's "Speaking In Tongues" also took cues from the original's garage-sleaze approach but was even more gloriously ramshackle; the closest sonic comparison was the B-52s careening on a highway to hell.

Musically, the Creepies – who looked like stoic cowboys in their sharp-looking suits – ably handled these twists and turns. (During "Boots & Boys," the band members also gamely stepped to the front for some light choreography that involved coordinated stage moves.) Charmingly, the Creepies also had a hype man of sorts in Kesha's boyfriend, Brad Ashenfelter, who popped onstage throughout the night to toss glitter, wave a rainbow U.S. flag or even just bust out some solo dance moves. He also served as a handy plot device: During "Cannibal," which was as guttural and fierce as its name implies, Kesha made out with him and then knelt over him and pantomimed cannibalism – after which she sauntered back to the mic in triumph, tossing handfuls of glitter all the way.

Kesha addressed the elephant in the room – her ongoing legal action against Dr. Luke – only in passing. During "We R Who We R," she proclaimed that anything dragging the audience down (e.g., rent, ex-boyfriends) was to be put aside. "I'm leaving my motherfucking lawsuit outside tonight!" she added, as the crowd roared its approval. In keeping with the upbeat tone, Kesha only mentioned the court case one other time, when she that noted she's "in the lawsuit from hell" as context to explain why the current tour focuses on older songs and covers. "But I'm not going to sit around waiting to die," she added firmly, to explain why she decided to hit the road, before also noting, "You guys give me fucking life."

The feeling was mutual. By the set-closing "Tik Tok," the audience was whipped into a sweaty, dancing frenzy. Kesha responded by upping the energy and chaos: Two figures dressed in animal costumes arrived onstage to fire off smoke and confetti cannons. (The latter downpour was so intense and pervasive, it completely obscured the stage.) As the audience howled in delight, Kesha did a kick line onstage with the furry figures.

Still, she had one more transformation up her sleeve. After sporting both a boxy red Nudie suit and a fringed leotard during the main set, Kesha emerged for the encore wearing a straw hat and a pale pink dress for a slow, haunting cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene." Next, she tackled "one of the reasons I write songs today" – "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You," a tune her mother co-wrote that was a Number One country hit for Parton. This moment was even more moving: Kesha closed her eyes and disappeared into herself as she sang, harnessing every ounce of concentration as her voice filled the far corners of the venue.

Unsurprisingly, Kesha was visibly emotional while expressing gratitude to the crowd before an impressive, night-ending take on Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." But while the encore was a dramatic detour from the night's party-driven atmosphere, it was the perfect comedown and illustration of this performer's chameleonic abilities. No matter which musical direction Kesha decides to take in the future – torchy country singer, badass rock-band frontwoman, fun-loving pop star – last night's show made it clear that each choice is a viable option.

Set List:

"We R Who We R"
"Your Love Is My Drug"
"Dinosaur"
"Nightclubbing" (Iggy Pop cover)
"True Colors"
"Blow"
"Speaking in Tongues" (Eagles of Death Metal cover)
"Boots and Boys"
"Cannibal"
"Timber"
"Tik Tok"

Encore:

"Jolene" (Dolly Parton cover)

"Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You" (Dolly Parton cover)
"I Shall Be Released" (Bob Dylan cover)

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