In a week where no one can escape the name “Harvey Weinstein” and the words “me too,” Kesha came along Wednesday night in Chicago to remind everyone that you can survive and prosper like an absolute queen. At her sold out show at the Aragon, the singer and songwriter did not hold back on her sharp-tongued criticism of “mother—— bullies,” no doubt eluding to her former producer Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, aka Dr. Luke, with whom Kesha had worked since the age of 18. Then came a 2014 lawsuit in which Kesha attempted to get out of her contract, alleging severe emotional and physical abuse, which she claimed led to a stint in rehab. The two have been embroiled in a tumultuous series of lawsuits ever since.
“You all know what I have been dealing with, and I can’t thank you enough for supporting me. I owe you very deep sincere gratitude,” Kesha said, while fighting back tears, addressing a congregation of adoring fans before gracefully transitioning into “Praying,” the evocative, stripped-down first single from her new album, “Rainbow,” which was released in August after the singer spent several years in career purgatory. “Praying” was perfectly positioned right before the night’s encore and right after a processional of gifts was delivered by a sea of hands to the stage. Among the presents were a sealed letter that Kesha vowed to read when she had alone time, and a large rainbow cape that she immediately put on for the finale, looking appropriately like some kind of Wonder Woman.
Amid the tumult of the past three years, Kesha could have easily decided to quit music altogther, but instead she opted to write “Rainbow,” a collection of 12 musical anchors that showcases a confident, vulnerable, authentic, emotional artist who can stand tall on her own.
“Let’s get one thing straight, I write my own songs,” Kesha said after opening Wednesday’s set with the soul-pop bulldozer “Woman,” flipping off the room while repeating the chorus, “I’m a mother——- woman, I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight.” Her feminist message was only furthered by her tongue-in-cheek velvet pantsuit (one of three outfits sported on this night) and incredibly entertaining male backup singers/dancers who pranced around stage for the quick-step jam “Boogie Feet” before tempering the act for the snap-and-sway anthem “Hymn,” which Kesha dedicated to DACA Dreamers.
The incredible work on “Rainbow” (supported by a talented live band in concert) will easily make it a well-deserved contender for album of the year, mostly for the risks Kesha takes on it with genre-bending Doo-wop, soul, pop, gospel and even country odes that hark back to her roots growing up in Tennessee. The album is full of collaborators including the Dap-Kings (whose live horn ensemble was the only thing missing from “Woman”), rock group Eagles of Death Metal, Dolly Parton, and even Kesha’s mom, Pebe Sebert, who has been on the tour and came out to sing “Godzilla” with her daughter. (It’s a song that Sebert actually wrote, proving that Dr. Luke isn’t needed anyway.) In fact, the songs that Kesha did write with him (the pantomime early hit “Tik Tok” and the trying-too-hard “Take It Off”) were nothing short of buzzkills in a set that otherwise proved she can rise above the Gaga-Perry mimicry.
Though Kesha complained early on in the night of being sick, almost having to cancel the show and cutting a few songs including “Let ‘Em Talk” and the “Rainbow” title track, she gave it her all, commending the crowd for “resurrecting” her. “I may lose my voice at some point,” she warned before metaphorically declaring, “but I will scream until it’s gone.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.
Learn to Let Go
Take It Off
We R Who We R
Hunt You Down (with Timber)
Your Love Is My Drug