“I got a question for you: are there any motherfuckers out there in the audience? Is there anybody here who runs their own shit?” asked Kesha during her set-opening performance of “Woman” at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium Wednesday night.
And with that fierce declaration of agency, the Nashville native set about making her hometown show one of the most positively uplifting, inclusive concert experiences available in 2017 – raging against the world’s unceasing tide of assholes and tenderly welcoming anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t belong.
It certainly wasn’t lip service from Kesha, who’s emerged on the other side of a very public legal battle with producer Dr. Luke to release one of 2017’s best albums in Rainbow. That message of standing proudly on your own was threaded through virtually every performance at the Ryman Auditorium, the second stop on the Rainbow Tour.
In keeping with the rock and country sounds that flavored Rainbow, Kesha brought along a full band that capably bashed their way through the defiant strains of “Boogie Feet” and “Learn to Let Go,” plus a pair of male dancers who worked the stage with nimble moves and harmonized with the pop star.
“You will always have a place at my show. I don’t care. I love you just as you are,” said Kesha, acknowledging the people of color, LGBTQ folks and other outsiders in her audience as she introduced “Hymn,” another Rainbow track aimed at the marginalized and driven by a snapping beat that recalls Lorde’s “Royals.”
The rock band set-up also transformed some of Kesha’s hits from EDM-style bangers into slash-and-burn anthems, from “Take It Off” (which she introduced with a coy removal of her garments) to “We R Who We R,” which sounded not unlike the bratty, danceable punk-rock of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs recordings. These songs worked just as well as crunchy rock tunes as they did with more electronic production, which says something about the level of craft applied to Kesha’s songs. Later in the show, “Your Love Is My Drug” sounded like new wave rock via Rick Springfield and the Go-Go’s.
Following a quick costume change, Kesha played some of the quieter, acoustic guitar-driven numbers from Rainbow, beginning with “Spaceship” – while standing directly below a lighting rig designed to look like a UFO. Her band continually goosed the tempo as the song morphed into a rockabilly style “Hunt You Down,” which featured a snippet of “Timber” sans Pitbull, making some connections between her style of songwriting and the brash attitudes of country’s superstar women.
Kesha’s mother Pebe Sebert, a Nashville songwriter, was in the house and came out to sing the charming “Godzilla,” a Rainbow cut that she wrote.
By the end of her main set, Kesha had softened her approach – well, after a wild, air gun-deploying rendition of “Blow” – to something that was markedly more conciliatory and something approaching vulnerable. “Praying,” the final song of the main set, mirrored that softening. In this case, though, she’s through with punching back and well on the other side of the heartache, more certain of herself, hoping the offender can one day find some peace. It was massive and spiritual, a defining moment in a night full of them, and a reminder that sometimes the best revenge on our enemies is to live a good and happy life.
But she wasn’t quite finished, returning to the stage for an encore of “Rainbow” and her breakout hit “Tik Tok” that caused the Ryman to break out into a gloriously liberating dance party. Finally, draping herself in the pride flag, she addressed the crowd before her closing number.
“I really want everybody leaving here tonight to be filled with fucking love,” she said.
Her last song, “Bastards,” was a gesture of that all-encompassing love. Beginning as a simple acoustic number that urged strength and solidarity in the face of overwhelming ugliness, it morphed into a “Hey Jude”-style sing-along that bravely and joyfully nah nah-ed the bastards and assholes into submission.
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Kesha has lived that experience over the last four years and emerged victorious to exist on her own terms. With the Rainbow Tour, she’s sharing a powerful message everyone living through 2017 needs to hear.
“Learn to Let Go”
“Let ‘Em Talk”
“Take It Off”
“We R Who We R”
“Hunt You Down”/”Timber”
“Godzilla” (feat. Pebe Sebert)
“Your Love Is My Drug”