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Credit: Rob Grabowski/Retna Ltd

A line of showgoers—most of them teenagers, and collectively wearing approximately one metric ton of glitter—furled down three city blocks in Midtown Manhattan last night to see Ke$ha perform at the Roseland Ballroom.

The crowd was about what one would expect from a Ke$ha concert: Boys wearing mesh tank tops, girls sprinkling glitter on each other’s bare legs, some put-upon parents who’d rather be anywhere else, some Cool Moms who were all too happy to chaperone, and 20-somethings like myself who were pretending to be there for ironic purposes but were actually pretty stoked.

I was surprised, though, by how unexpectedly awesome the show was. Judging from some less-than-stellar TV performances, my expectations were low, but for what it’s worth, Ke$ha sounded at least as good live as she does on her recorded tracks. And as far as onstage antics go, she packed infinitely more entertainment value and energy into the show by way of pure, unabashed silliness than Britney Spears did in her much more expensive and lavish Circus tour.

I left the concert with an understanding and appreciation for Ke$ha that I hadn’t had before—and having to pick glitter out of my hair for the next three weeks is a small price to pay for enlightenment.

But first, I have to mention the utter travesty that was Beardo, the night’s opening act. When he first jumped onto the stage, I thought he might have been some children’s novelty act fresh off the bar mitzvah circuit: an unholy mixture of Weird Al, Andrew W.K. and Freddy Spaghetti.

A thirtysomething man with no beard to speak of, just a greasy mustache, he looked like a kindergartner who dressed herself for class photo day circa 1992: Seizure-inducing magenta tights and homemade t-shirt, and in place of a side ponytail, a curly mullet that could put old-school Billy Ray to shame.

I stood in the mezzanine with all the parents and joined them in absolute horror as Beardo sang about creating a “blizzard” in his nose (“Drugs! On my mind … Drugs! All the time”) and getting kicked out of class for selling grass. The parents didn’t need to worry, though, because it didn’t take long for their teens to realize that Beardo wasn’t cool enough for them—he was getting booed off the stage by the third song.

Toward the tail end of Beardo’s set, I spotted the person I’d perhaps least expect to see at a Ke$ha concert; the white-haired gentleman standing next to me wasn’t just another parent/grandparent chaperone but renowned journalist Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame. While I was pondering the fact that I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the man who inspired the book and film Heartburn and the Oscar-winning 1976 drama All The President’s Men, when who walks into my eye line but screenwriter, author, and director Nora Ephron!

I couldn’t imagine why these two refined individuals in their late sixties—who also happen to be famously divorced—would be at the same Ke$ha concert, but a quick iPhone Wikipedia search explained it all: Their youngest son Max is Ke$ha’s touring guitarist and bassist. The exes stood far apart, and I didn’t see them acknowledge each other all night, but they both seemed to enjoy themselves and bopped their heads with the beat—I hope Nora doesn’t feel bad about her neck this morning as a result.

Ke$ha couldn’t arrive soon enough, and she put on an amazing show from the opening number (“Sleazy”) to the two encores. She began on a raised platform surrounded by her collection of electronic instruments, but by the fourth song, “Take a Dirty Picture,” she was down on the stage doing some hilarious dance moves and incorporating as many props as possible.

The choreography didn’t come across as all that synchronized or rehearsed, but Ke$ha and her dancers looked like they were having a blast. Some highlights: Ke$ha shot a glitter cannon and threw a few confetti bombs during “Blow,” ate one of her dancers to the bone in “Cannibal,” and danced with a walker while singing the unapologetically ageist “Dinosaur.” At times, she was almost upstaged a few times by her hype man, who was dressed as a very Bad Santa, but Ke$ha delivered from start to finish.

The funniest moment of the night came when Ke$ha asked for a “man who enjoys being abused” from the audience and chose 18-year-old Andrew, who was wearing his mom’s Suze Orman-esque leopard-print jacket. She tied Andrew to a chair with duct tape and gave him a lap dance while singing “Grow a Pear. Then a dancer dressed as (yes) a pear joined the tease show—a clever and somewhat subtle visual pun, until another dancer, dressed as a pair of exactly what you’d think, showed up. This is Ke$ha, after all.

I think Ke$ha doesn’t get much respect because people have a hard time seeing what she brings to the table that other pop solo artists like Britney, Gaga, and Katy Perry don’t already, but her persona was fully on display last night, and it was all her own.

She gamely plays the role of the Bad Influence, the party girl with impulse-control issues, but she does it in a way that’s so blatant (“I want to see you all on your very worst behavior!”) that kids and authority figures are both in on the joke. And don’t mistake it, Ke$ha is an artist with a message. As she said last night, “Be yourself. Unapologetically. Always. … Get laid!”

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