Tuesday night was the electro-trash vixen Kesha’s first headlining set at the Hollywood Bowl. But it was far from her first visit there.
“The first time I came to the Bowl I was a baby, and my mom carried me in a guitar case because she was playing a show here,” she said. “The second time, I snuck in to see the Stones. The third time, I got kicked out because I ate too many mushrooms and took off my pants.”
That just about sums up Kesha’s career: a childhood steeped in rock and roll’s mechanics; an adolescence of idolizing the genre’s lecherous dinosaurs; and her 20s spent getting booted from public spaces for nudity and psychedelics.
But her fond Bowl memories also embodied the weirdness of Kesha’s co-headlining double bill with the Miami pop-rapper Pitbull on Tuesday. At one of the most elysian spaces for music in America — one that’s hosted the Beatles, Van Morrison and Billie Holiday, among countless others — here comes a fire hose of raved-up singles, crotch-swinging guitar solos, Spanglish salaciousness and two different crowds that barely acknowledged each other in the venue.
Both sets were well-executed, big-budget pop performances from two staples of top-40 radio. But the whole thing would have only made sense if you took a bunch of pills and got naked in the aisles.
Kesha’s set was the better fit of the two opposing pieces. The longtime Angeleno earned her stardom with artfully ditzy dance-rap. But anyone who’s heard her minimalist cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” knows she’s a serious student of her Bowl forebears, and it showed.
Her recent second LP “Warrior” is marinated in scuzzy ‘70s rock and roll, with a fresh-from-the-VD-clinic spring in its step. “I wrote this song with the two craziest people I know, Iggy Pop and my mom,” she said, introducing her single “Dirty Love.” That pairing seemed apropos for the whole set — a mix of shirt-soaking sex-sweat, with an almost mom-friendly enthusiasm.
Though it was odd to see a Kesha set in the daylight (and to judge by some disappointed late arrivals, some of her crowd seemed to think she was playing much later), she has few peers in turning a party around, if only for her own amusement. Between name-checking the experimental dance party Wildness to joining a septet of male dancers who climbed an Illuminati-inspired triangle grid on stage, she took back the night.
Then a perhaps unprecedented thing happened at the Bowl — the crowd swapped itself out. Off went Kesha’s spangly mob to the bar; in came Pitbull’s pan-Latino throng of fans waiting to cut rug to saucy EDM updates.
The show was obviously a landmark for the normally unflappable Pitbull, who took an early moment to earnestly gawk at the Bowl crowd before him.
He then delivered a longer riff on the same live strategy he’s deployed at countless radio station fests and amphitheater headline gigs — speedy snippets of his wolf-whistle singles.
Pitbull, born Armando Perez, has always had a leg up on his rap-radio peers, with his versatile live band and a DJ’s sensibility about cutting straight to the good parts of his songs. Dirty house cuts like “Move Shake Drop” and his update on Don Omar’s “Danza Kuduro” felt like the inevitable future of American club pop — Latin tinges atop South Beach thumps. Chris Brown, Enrique Iglesias, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez all stopped by to return the favors Pit supplied on his years of collaborations with others.
The show cemented him as a major pop headliner in his own right. But in the future, he’s going to have to fill out his sets with a bit more Pitbull. His set was marbled with quick-hit covers of Beastie Boys, Ozzy Osbourne, Martin Solveig, Guns N’ Roses, Duck Sauce, Survivor and Calvin Harris, among others.
The populism was appreciated, but a headliner should have more confidence in his own material. But then again, it was a grab bag end to a mixed-nuts night of pop. Might as well finish your drink and undo a few buttons while you’re there.