Near the end of her marathon performance last night at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, a white-caped Kesha looked out at the crowd with a hazy look on her face and told the crowd that she’d dreamt of this exact thing when she was at one of her lowest points. She had that vision on the floor of a rehab center where she was in treatment for a severe eating disorder. That period marked one of the many difficult series of events she’s endured in the years since the start of her mainstream success in 2009.
The crowd, made up of mostly smiling packs of glitter-faced women and gay bears with big beards, cheered louder than they had all night. These were the people who had supported her online with hashtags like #FreeKesha and in real life at her court dates, and when they helped her long-awaited comeback album Rainbow debut on the charts at No. 1 earlier this year. They, too, had been through some stuff in the last eight years and the entire show seemed like a two-way celebration.
The show was the first time I’ve seen Kesha perform since 2010, when I, and what seemed like my entire class at NYU, went to go see her at Webster Hall. It was in the middle of a nine-week run at the top of the Billboard charts with her mega-smash “TiK ToK.” At the time, she seemed like a novelty act, and on stage that night, she was a caricature of the party girl everyone was already familiar with: she fell down during a few songs, seemingly pretty wasted, and sprayed the crowd with glitter that lingered around corners of campus for weeks. Over the last few years, I’ve conquered some personal challenges and have become one of the happy gay bearded people in the audience that is so fond of Kesha and her big tent messages of love, acceptance, and personal strength. It makes it easier to be a fan when the music and Kesha’s craft has gotten so much better, too.
Although she still had some special effects at her disposal — who doesn’t love a rainbow Lite-Brite-hued confetti blaster — Kesha’s live set was one of the cleanest and most exciting shows I’ve been to all year. Her voice sounded really great, even on difficult numbers, like the soaring ballad “Praying.” Although her musical style has changed a lot over the last few albums, she and her live band treated everything with a hair metal touch that strung it all together. At one truly brilliant moment, the boot-stomping “Hunt You Down” from Rainbow was interrupted by a sing-along of her 2013 Pitbull duet “Timber.” It was country, rock, pop all at once, and for about an hour of our lives, nobody in the room had any damn thing to complain about.