Review: Kesha, Macklemore stage a gloriously wild, redemptive party at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

Kesha performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 5, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Kesha performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 5, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Published August 6 2018

Kesha descended from a UFO birds a-blazing, snarling "I'M A M—–F—ING WOMAN!" in white chaps with a  barely-there backside.

"This is the last night of tour, so f— it, I'm just going to scream until my voice is no longer there. Who's with me?" she told some 12,000 fans at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre Sunday night. "I personally am ready to kick the s— out of tonight, but I don't think my ass is out quite enough yet."

So off came the chaps, and out came even more of Kesha — much more than Tampa fans had seen in quite a while.

Two years removed from a gig at the much smaller Ritz Ybor as part of a hard-fought comeback tour, and even longer since her lawsuits and allegations of sexual assault against former producer Dr. Luke made her a pre-#MeToo cause celebre, Kesha returned as a onetime pop punchline turned Grammy nominee out to reclaim her career.

Along for the ride was Macklemore, the hitmaking rapper who also knows a thing or two about comebacks, and who as a fellow square-peg pop outsider proved a perfect tourmate for Kesha.

But it was Ms. Sebert the Animals in the house came to see. And amid a flurry of F-bombs and glitter, she gave them the redemptive comeback concert they'd hoped for.

Kesha performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 5, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

"Don't buy me a drink, I make my money, don't touch my weave, don't call me honey!" she wailed on defiant opener Woman, a defiant statement that this night was to be no pity party.

"You ready to f— s— up tonight?" she said, strapping on a purple guitar for Blah Blah Blah. And for We R Who We R: "This song is about being yourself, unapologetically, f—ing always."

Kesha performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 5, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

In accordance with her return to arena-headliner status, Kesha sang all those crowd-pleasing, Dr. Luke-produced hits that got her here, including a couple (We R Who We R and celebratory closer Tik Tok) that sounded pretty straightforward. Others, she reimagined in her new rhinestone image — like Timber, a Thin Lizzified rocker Pitbull haters would probably love. Three others (Die Young, Your Love Is My Drug and Blow) leaned heavily into the guitars, sped up and cranked up until they sounded almost like Punk Goes Pop covers. If this was a way to distance herself from Dr. Luke's electro-pop style, it was a canny one – the songs rocked anyway.

But the ones that hit the hardest came from last summer's Rainbow, her first album without Dr. Luke after five years languishing in industry limbo. There was Woman, of course, but also the resilient anthem Bastards and, most devastatingly, the searing ballad Praying (produced, coincidentally, by Macklemore collaborator Ryan Lewis), on which she shook with emotion, the whole crowd singing along.

"That song just reminds me of the time when I wasn't sure if I would ever get to make music again, and then that was the first song I got to put out," she said. "It just brings me back to that place. I'm so f—ing grateful for all of you."

Kesha performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 5, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Macklemore performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 5, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

No doubt some in the house were skeptical a bro like Macklemore belonged on a bill with their glitter queen. "Where's Kesha?" screamed a woman in Section 7. "I thought this was Kesha!? You're not Kesha!"

Well, no, he's not. But he's nevertheless a hell of a showman, a silver-tongued S.O.B. who'd excel on any platform. He was effortlessly loquacious between songs, switching from pump-'em-up party patter ("I love this place. I love gators. If there is a gator, let's grab that dude and bring him up on stage and crowdsurf") to stories about Uber ("Is that Macklemore in a 1996 Nissan Sentra?") to, before the earnest Same Love, an inevitable speech about equality.

"It seems like there's so much fear and hatred going on right now in our nation," he said. "And I just want to say that regardless of the color of your skin, regardless of your sexual orientation, regardless of the bathroom that you choose to use, regardless of where your passport says that you are from, or the documents say that you were born, you are American, here tonight, at this show, and all shows in the future. We came here to celebrate diversity, and not be afraid of it."

Macklemore performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 5, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Without Lewis by his side — to say nothing of The Heist cohorts Wanz (Thrift Shop), Ray Dalton (Can't Hold Us), Schoolboy Q (White Walls) and Same Love (Mary Lambert) — Macklemore was down to his excitable band and dancers and one special guest: Foxy Shazam singer Eric Nally, who brought his (Freddie) Mercurial pipes to Ain't Gonna Die Tonight and Downtown.

Macklemore was joined by Foxy Shazam singer Eric Nally at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 5, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

How much you enjoyed Macklemore depended a lot on how much you bought into his relentlessly silly ringleader schtik. He's a quasi-ironic pop star in hip-hop clothing, has been for years, and he's fully committed to the bit, whether he's hot-stepping in his fringe and Chucks or hurling a hot dog to a fan way back in the crowd. He brought two fans (and Kesha) on stage for a dance-off on Dance Off, and two more up to watch from an air mattress on an exclamatory Willy Wonka. He even brought his merch lady on stage to sing The Little Mermaid's Part of Your World, hamming along on pretend piano the whole time. It was all playtime, but it was never just a goof. By the time he hit the pit to crowd-surf on the relentless Can't Hold Us, he came off as the swaggiest emmer-effer in the shed, Kesha included.

Macklemore performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 5, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Not that it was a competition. In truth, both pop misfits seemed to push and elevate each other's game. This being the last show of their tour, they shared in gags aplenty, such as when Macklemore came out to duet with Kesha on Good Old Days dressed as, well, Kesha. After laughing through the song, changing lyrics around to reference the stunt, Kesha grabbed a cake and smashed it on Macklemore's head. He grabbed the cake from the stage and hurled it into the crowd.

Sugar and frosting flew everywhere, an explosion of sin and guilty pleasure in the air. The taste didn't factor in at all. All that mattered was how glorious it looked shooting through the sky.

— Jay Cridlin

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