Pitbull and Ke$ha at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 6/22/13
On paper, a Pitbull/Ke$ha tour makes a lot of sense. They're both pop stars with a ton of hit singles who write a lot of songs about the dance floor and partying all night. But that kind of logic only makes sense on a superficial level and when you really think about it, the pairing is just plain odd.
A free spirit who lets her freak flag fly versus a sharp-dressed man. One of the more polarizing figures in modern pop and a guy artists love to guest on their tracks. They may both write party songs, but a Pitbull party isn't going to end with you waking up the next morning questioning your life decisions.
While it was a tour that was beneficial for all parties involved -- Pitbull can charge more money for tickets, Ke$ha can hit bigger venues while she struggles to find a followup hit to "Die Young" -- it was also one that showed their differences extend to the stage.
Ke$ha is at her best when she's being the rock star that she wants to be versus the pop star she currently is. She can write a hell of a pop-dance track (and has some of the best hooks in the industry), but when it comes to the overly choreographed hyper-costumed type performances we expect from our pop stars, she just falls flat. Given the amount of times she let her backup singers handle the vocals at the start of the show, her heart may not be in to that type of performance either.
The show got off to a shaky start because of this, but once she got past that and allowed her and her band to up the rock, suddenly it was like a whole new person was onstage, and one who puts on a hell of a show. Look no further than the live version of "Take It Off," which stripped the song of its electronic elements and turned it in to a sleazy strip-club rocker. Add in some cross-dressing members of her dance team throwing down some truly impressive lap-dance moves and you've got quite the show.
By the time the backup dancers were onstage dressed up like mascots gone wild and the confetti flew in the air while "Tik Tok" blasted on the PA, the show had become the spectacle one expects when they think of Ke$ha. It was sloppy and chaotic and you might end up driving home a hot mess, but goddammit, isn't that what makes Ke$ha a welcome presence in pop music?
It's hard to know what to make of Pitbull's performance. It was good, in the sense that it was never boring, high-energy, and made the crowd happy. As a performer he's charismatic and has complete control of the audience at all times. But it was also a show that was weird as hell.
But there were ever an artist who needed to invest in holographic technology, it's Pitbull. The simple truth is that some of his best work is in collaboration with other artists, whether it be on one of his singles or guesting on someone else's track. He has to play those songs, and he should; it's the most powerful way of showing just how much name value he brings to a track. Playing clips of his collaborators on the screen behind him works OK, but isn't exactly dynamic.
If it had just been a set of his solo hits and collabs, the show would have good but perhaps slightly unremarkable. What takes it from "good show" in to "what is going on here?" territory is the fact that his set is littered with tracks that have nothing to do with him. Over the course of the night his band performed snippets of "Sweet Child o' Mine" and "(You Gotta Fight For Your Right (to Party!)," and Pitbull himself gave little talks that lead in to tracks by Icona Pop and Calvin Harris.
By the time the band broke out in to "Barbra Streisand," it felt less like a concert and more like a mixtape by someone who just really happened to like Pitbull a lot.
It was a fun but slightly baffling night under the supermoon. In the end, it seems that both artists need to be willing to embrace themselves a little more; one needs to embrace the wild side that makes her stand out from the crowd and resist the temptation to fall into standard pop-music trappings, and one needs to embrace the body of work that got him to the big stage and focus less on side trips to songs that have nothing to do with him.
OK, so maybe they're not so different after all.
Personal Bias: I'm pretty indifferent to Pitbull; he's been on some tracks that I dig ("Hotel Room Service", "I Like It") and he's been on some tracks that I can't stand ("Back In Time", "International Love"). As for Ke$ha, come to find out if you mention being a fan just once, people will remind you about it for the rest of time. So there's that.
The Crowd: Hardcore Ke$ha fans in their finest homemade creations and glitter; people dressed up for a high-class evening out; guys in their finest "Pitbull on a budget" outfits; a whole bunch of people who didn't fit in the above categories but wanted to dance.
Overheard In the Crowd: "That happened because I haven't drunk enough yet," a woman told me in hopes of explaining why she started to walk in to the men's room before realizing the error of her ways.
Random Notebook Dump: Between all the acts onstage, I heard Macklemore played three times and Zedd played twice. Not what I would have guessed for the world of pop at the start of the year.