Kesha got straight to the point at the Fillmore on Saturday night.
Dressed in a teal pantsuit and backed by a five-man band plus two male, fully clothed gyrating backup singers, the re-ascendant pop star opened up her 90-minute set with “Woman.” It’s a soul-funk declaration of independence that is punched up by the Dap-Kings horns.on her chart-topping new album, Rainbow.
At the packed, ecstatic-to-see-her Fishtown venue, those brass parts were handled by keyboards, but that didn’t lessen the celebratory vibe as the singer proudly declared that she was a “just having fun with my ladies here tonight!”
The liberation of Kesha is one of the feel-good, or at last feel-a-little-better, music stories of 2017. The songwriter’s legal battle with Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, whom she has accused of emotional and sexual abuse, is not yet fully resolved. But after a layoff of nearly four years, the 30-year-old singer has returned to action in 2017 with her stylistically varied third album, which makes take-control-of-your-own-life catharsis its business.
To say that the self-actualization of Kesha — who no longer spells her name with a $ — was greeted warmly would be an understatement. In between song interludes, the largely female date-night crowd frequently expressed support by chanting her name. “I love each and every one of you exactly as you are,” she said in response, singling out fans in the LGBTQ community. “I am going to fight for equality until I’m six feet in the ground. That’s what this album’s about, that’s what this tour’s about.”
The evening’s moments of emotional release were many. It was a family affair, with one of her brothers filming the show, and the singer bringing her songwriter mother, Pebe Sebert, up on stage. The duo sang the gentle acoustic “Godzilla,” Sebert’s song about dating a giant monster that’s a metaphor for outgrowing fears born of ignorance. Sebert also thanked the crowd, “for saving my daughter’s life these last two years.”
Kesha didn’t do “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You),” the 1980 country hit her mother cowrote for Dolly Parton, who appears on a duet on Rainbow. Nor did she repeat the Tom Petty tribute of “Into the Great Wide Open” that she encored with on the previous tour stop in Boston.
But she still had plenty of opportunity to move from genre to genre with all-over- the-place, unabashedly unpolished energy, whether it was the party blues of “Boogie Feet,” which features hard-rock band Eagles of Death Metal on Rainbow, or a number of rapping, trashy, bubble gum singles from earlier in her career.
Before one of those, “Take It Off,” she coyly played with showbiz cliche by asking the crowd whether it was OK that she disrobe. She took off only her jacket, but audience members took matters into their own hands and tossed bras on stage, which the band’s dueling lead guitarists then hung on their instruments’ necks.
The synth-powered, gospel-shaped, all-inclusive “Hymn” (“I know I’m perfect, even though I’m [expletived] up”) was an early highlight of a night that built to the crescendo of “Praying,” Rainbow’s first single. That full-throated, dramatic performance was delivered as a musical monologue directed at a past tormentor, presumably the unidentified Dr. Luke. “I had to learn to fight for myself / We both know the truth I could tell,” Kesha sang with unbridled conviction in the hate-purging song that made her audience love her all the more.
Scrappy and scuzzy Atlanta garage punk band Black Lips, now a five-piece after a lineup shuffle and the addition of sax player Zuni Rosow, opened the show. They were admirably unfazed by between-song chants of “Kesha … Kesha … Kesha” that grew stronger as their set wore on.
Drawing mostly from the new Sean Lennon-produced Satan’s graffiti or God’s art?, the band overcame a shaky sound mix with songs that, at their best, were marked by sneaky ambition. “Crystal Night,” for instance, is a tragic romance whose Wall of Sound nodded to the girl-group 1960s but is actually set during Kristallnacht, the November 1938 anti-Jewish pogroms in pre-World War II Nazi Germany.