The most satisfying pop rebirth this year is without question the one staged by Kesha, who released her third album, “Rainbow,” in August. The Nashville-raised singer kicked off her pop career as a protégé of Lukas “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, the super-producer who minted some of the 21st century’s biggest hits. Kesha’s blippy, party-minded debut single, “Tik Tok,” produced by Gottwald, was the No. 1 single of 2010; the string of Top 10 hits that followed were defined by her seemingly carefree spirit and searing voice, and punctuated at times with surrealistic wit.
But in 2014, hard truths emerged. In January of that year, she checked into an Illinois rehab center to manage an eating disorder and “to learn to love myself again,” she wrote in a Facebook post; that October, she filed a civil suit against Gottwald, alleging that their relationship had been marked by emotional and physical abuse and requesting to be released from her contract with his label (a division of Sony Music Entertainment). The years that followed were dotted with countersuits and charged courtroom appearances, as well as fans rallying around Kesha and agitating for her to be able to release new music.
The dam broke in July, when Kesha released “Praying,” a slow-burning ballad outlining tentative forgiveness toward an unnamed someone who had wronged her. While her twangy voice’s surprising power had been hinted at on her 2013 EP “Deconstructed” and a stark cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “Praying” represented a new Kesha, one who could lead off an album campaign with a deeply felt showcase for her instrument and, more importantly, her inner self.
“Rainbow” doesn’t only dwell on Kesha’s wounds, as her energetic, glitter-bomb-filled show at House of Blues on Wednesday showed. It leads off with “Bastards,” a resolute anthem that pivots on the mantra “don’t let the bastards get you down”; that defiance is evidenced by Kesha casting her net far beyond the EDM-adjacent pop that made her a chart fixture in the early 2010s. “Rainbow” dabbles in high-octane soul-pop (“Woman,” which opened Wednesday’s show), punchy rock (“Boogie Feet”), and even gentle freak-folk (“Godzilla,” a sweetly besotted ditty about the tribulations of dating the titular monster), with Kesha’s malleable, yet singular yawp acting as the album’s through line.
They were also the glue that held Wednesday’s at times wild, at times reverent show together. Backed by two singer-dancers and a formidable band that powered through “Rainbow” tracks while reinventing her old hits (their take on the anxious party jam “Blow” brought to mind the loft-party exuberance of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, while her 2013 Pitbull collaboration “Timber” was given extra country flair when it was folded into the sweetly menacing “Hunt You Down”), Kesha expressed overwhelming gratitude and encouragement toward the crowd, dotting her banter with I love yous and introducing songs like the determined “Hymn” with impassioned appeals to those who felt like they didn’t fit in.
The encore led off with a stirring version of the late Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open,” which showed off her voice’s rich lower register while nodding to one of her influences; then came the redemptive title track of “Rainbow,” which the audience sang back at her with enough gusto for her to let them take the lead. A sleekly accelerating version of “Tik Tok” and a singalong to “Bastards” closed out the show, a one-two combination that doubled as a chance for Kesha to nod to her past and assert herself as a woman in charge of her future.
With Black Lips. At House of Blues, Boston, WednesdayMaura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.