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Pitbull Sizzles, Ke$ha Fizzles at Hollywood Bowl: Concert Review

Kesha Performing at Hollywood Bowl - P 2013
Kyleen James

The Bottom Line

The Cuban rapper proves to be a solidly entertaining headliner while the "Tik Tok" singer's provocation falls flat.

Venue

Hollywood Bowl
Los Angeles
(Tuesday, June 18)

Pitbull and Ke$ha embarking on a summer tour together might seem like a strange pairing until you remember that the pop artists share a record label -- and thus marketing dollars. Another potential benefit of sharing a bill in giant outdoor amphitheaters like the Hollywood Bowl is the cross-pollination of fans, ensuring that each section of the Ke$ha-Pitbull Venn diagram is holding a ticket. But Tuesday evening at the Bowl, the seats were filled primarily with raging Pitbull fans, who filed into the venue mid-way during Ke$ha’s hourlong set, which took place mostly in daylight.

If both artists can churn out Top 40 singles and sell albums with decent regularity, how does one draw a notably larger crowd when it comes to touring? The answers might lie in each artist’s presentation and how the overall image they’ve each generated is translated into a live performance.

For Ke$ha, that image is sex and essentially nothing else. Even as songs like “Blow” and “Crazy Kids” feel like raucous party anthems, the singer seems hell-bent on embodying this persona of an over-sexed, unnecessarily crass rebel whose music is secondary to her shouting things like, “Now will you guys please take your balls out and teabag your neighbor?” Her performance is a spectacle but perhaps not in the way pop is meant to be a spectacle where the visuals should lend new meaning to the music itself. There is no subtlety, no innuendo, no turn of phase. For instance: the track “Dirty Love,” off her recent album Warrior. As if not already abundantly clear in its message, did the song really need the alarmingly explicit visual of Ke$ha poking her finger into one of her dancer’s butts?

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From a stripper pole to dancers dressed like drag queens to a series of glittering leotards to an inflatable pink hippo, Ke$ha’s set lacked an overarching vision beyond provocation. When you perform a song like “Gold Trans Am,” how does pretending to weld your crotch while changing the already-blatant lyrics to “Get inside of my vagina” expand and augment a recorded version of the song? If anything, it makes the track seem more like a gimmick than it did before.

Pitbull, on the other hand, has created an image of a cool playboy, ever-clad in a black suit and constantly surrounded by gyrating dancers. But the Cuban singer’s headlining set, which featured almost no production except a light show, four dancers and a band, was far more open than Ke$ha’s. It allowed for a broader audience to embrace its aesthetic and message, although Pitbull’s means of doing so occasionally bordered on cheesy.

For Pitbull, the performance was about playing the hits -- his own or anyone else’s. Each track was introduced with an abridged cover or interlude with songs like Icona Pop’s “I Love It” or Black Eyed Peas' “I Got A Feeling.” Even Jennifer Lopez, who appeared onstage toward the end of the set, was on hand to perform her own new single “Live It Up” rather than guest on one of the several Pitbull songs on which she is featured. The idea was to transform the normally tame venue into a party, one that transcended demographic (although Pitbull’s Latin audience was strongly represented last night). “We make world music,” the rapper said at one point, after rattling off a list of Spanish-speaking countries. “We talk to the whole world.”

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From “International Love,” which received a guest appearance from Chris Brown, to “Don’t Stop The Party” to the Enrique Iglesias-led “Baby I Like It,” Pitbull’s set was massive and all-encompassing, generating an unabashed sense of fun in the crowd. That, in many ways, feels like the point of a pop show -- creating an atmosphere that allows your fans to celebrate music and experience a sense of release ... not encouraging everyone to take their balls out because it serves your own twisted agenda.

Pitbull, who called out Los Angeles twice as his “No. 1 market,” balanced his pop radio singles with his more Latin-inspired numbers, offering onstage banter in both languages throughout the set. Before he closed down the Bowl with “Give Me Everything” and actual fireworks, the smiling singer presented the crowd with his motto: “Pasos cortos, visión larga,” which translates to “Short steps, long vision.”

The two pop stars who took the stage at the Hollywood Bowl clearly have different ideas about artistic sustainability. Ke$ha revealed hers to be largely one-note, empty of anything beyond immediate shock value. But for Pitbull, this long vision consists of building himself up as an artist who's amiable and accessible to the crowd that supports his music. It’s a good lesson.

Set List:

Ke$ha:

Warrior
Crazy Kids
We R Who We R
Blow
Gold Trans Am
Dirty Love
Take It Off
C'Mon
Machine Gun Love
Blah Blah Blah
YLIMD
Tik Tok
Die Young

Twitter: @THRMusic

Kyleen James