Review: Ke$ha at the Pageant, Tuesday, February 22

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TODD OWYOUNG
  • Todd Owyoung

Forget what you know - or think - about Ke$ha, the sleazy pop sensation everyone loves to hate. Her very-sold-out show at the Pageant was full of ridiculous spectacle, with generous doses of camp and schlock thrown in for good measure. And oh yes, don't worry - there was glitter. And keytars.

View a slideshow of photos from Ke$ha at the Pageant

The stage set was industrial-looking and sparse, a cross between Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation and parts of Lady Gaga's Monster Ball. Ke$ha's band and back-up singers were somewhat obscured by caged wire; the skeezy diva herself had an elevated mad-scientist's lair full of synths, electric drums and other goodies smack dab in the middle of the stage. During "Dirty Picture" she conjured creepy with a theremin; for "Take It Off," she unveiled a KAOSS pad (the effects sampler that musicians often use to create scribbled-like sounds), placed it right over her crotch and gyrated and thrusted. A glowing parallelogram of tubing framed this enclave, a futuristic match for her glittery silver leotard.

TODD OWYOUNG
  • Todd Owyoung

Later in the set, Ke$ha descended to the stage, grabbed a mic and showed off that she can actually sing. While the background singers, dancers and musical accompaniment created sensory overload - if it wasn't throbbing techno and blinding strobes or rock guitars, it was laser-beam synthpop and manipulated robotics - her clear vocals frequently rose above the din. "Backstabber" was power-pop kitsch featuring dancers in drag; "Blah Blah Blah" was 8-bit gasket-blowing with cheerful digital bleeps. A collection of slower songs near the end of the set wasn't quite as successful, however. "The Harold Song" was weak and thin, and the Broadway-sappy "Animal" sounded a bit like Alanis Morissette gone techno.

Still, Ke$ha is a natural performer who seems entirely comfortable on the stage; she never looked awkward or tentative. This confidence is a large part of her popularity, especially among teenage girls - she's carefree and careless in a way that's very appealing. She has the tough attitude so many adolescents wish they had, as they navigate dating, social minefields and teenage boys. For all of her party-girl poses, Ke$ha is an idol because she's fun, fearless and doesn't take shit from anyone.

TODD OWYOUNG
  • Todd Owyoung

Correction: Anyone, but especially men. She introduced the Ladyhawke-like electropop delicacy "C U Next Tuesday" as a song "about a guy who was pretending he didn't have a girlfriend." Before "Grow a Pear" - which has the lyric, "I just can't date a dude with a vag" - she described it as a tune inspired by a dude who wanted to talk instead of getting it on. Ke$ha flips the dating script without being sanctimonious - and she's talking about real, concrete things that actually happen to women. It's at once pop escapism and pop sympathy.

But in all honesty, the secret to appreciating Ke$ha is recognizing the humor in her music. "D.I.N.O.S.A.U.R." - whose electric guitar and cheerleader-from-hell chant is a musical kissing cousin of Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It" - completely mocks geezers hitting on pretty young women: "D.I.N.O.S.A./You are a dinosaur/An O-L-D-M-A-N, You're just an old man/Hitting on me, what?/You need a CAT scan." During last night's performance, her troupe of dancers hauled out old-man walkers as props and waved them around for effect.

TODD OWYOUNG
  • Todd Owyoung

Another highlight, "Cannibal," was a delicious new-wave campfest. As tribal-like drums galloped along, one of the dancers was strapped to a giant V - and then magically transformed into a skeleton, low-budget-b-movie style. And "Grow a Pear" was beyond ridiculous: Ke$ha asked if any of the men in the audience liked "being abused," and then brought a fan named Clay up to the stage. (She asked his age and then giggled, "Jailbait!") After saran-wrapping him to a chair, Ke$ha and two dancers - one dressed like a pear and the other dressed like a gigantic penis with oversized balls - came out and danced around awkwardly. (Ke$ha also motorboated the balls of the costumed cock, but that's neither here nor there.)

TODD OWYOUNG
  • Todd Owyoung

By the time glitter cascaded from the ceiling over the audience during "TiK ToK," the audience was nearly delirious with joy. In fact, the positive message Ke$ha went out of her way to reinforce after the encore gem "We R Who We R" - that people should be free to be themselves - was a nice touch, and completely in line with the rest of the concert. Ke$ha's show wasn't deep, and it wasn't rocket science - but its frivolous fun was more than enough.

Critic's Notebook: Ke$ha's dancers were also completely fun. They dressed like street urchins, and donned costumes like good sports - everything from wearing skeleton suits to stuffed-animal heads. They staged a mock-fight during "Party at a Rich Dude's House" (complete with a high-hat cymbal being lowered from the stage and a lawn chair). Oh, and someone was dressed up as Santa Claus and wandered on and off stage, too.

The show was predominantly under 21. The over-21 section was dominated by parents, it appeared.

Showed up late and wasn't able to see Beardo. What did I miss?

Personal Bias: My mom was super jealous I saw Ke$ha.

Setlist: Sleazy Take It Off (Fuck Him) He's a DJ Dirty Picture Blow Blah Blah Blah Party At a Rich Dude's House Backstabber Cannibal The Harold Song C U Next Tuesday Animal D.I.N.O.S.A.U.R. Grow a Pear Your Love Is My Drug TiK ToK

Encore: We R Who We R (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) (Beastie Boys cover)

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