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Hannah Montana is officially dead. Miley Cyrus sent that message out loud and clear last summer with the twerk seen around the world at MTV’s Video Music Awards. Now, on her Bangerz tour — which stopped at the Honda Center on Thursday and hits Staples Center Saturday — the one-time Disney Channel child star is twerking on her TV alter-ego’s grave with a completely over-the-top, nearly two-hour show.
While it’s wildly entertaining, the circus-like atmosphere threatened to eclipse Cyrus’ talent at times. And make no mistake, though the 21-year-old Nashville-born singer may be primarily known as a provocateur these days, she has real talent as both a singer and a pop culture scholar who is happily borrowing bits from various influences — to the delight of her teen fans and the outrage of others.
On Thursday, the third date of the tour, fans arriving at Honda Center were greeted with religious protesters holding signs with Bible verses and one that read, “The Teachings of Smiley Virus Will Wreck Your Life.” A moment on the earlier dates featuring Cyrus “Lewinsky-ing” a dancer with a Bill Clinton mask, wasn’t featured in Anaheim, perhaps due to reports that the controversy had softened the demand for tickets.
Yet for all the shock-and-awe talk, Cyrus isn’t actually doing anything more outrageous than her idol Madonna did years ago. In fact, one racy black-and-white video montage — which upped Cyrus’ hipster quotient by having Alt-J’s “Fitzpleasure” as its soundtrack — seemed clearly inspired by Madonna’s S&M-themed “Justify My Love.” Of course, Madonna was a full-grown woman when she shocked the world, while Cyrus has only recently transitioned from a clean-cut teen star to a down-and-dirty sex kitten who clearly takes pleasure in pushing people’s buttons.
And just in case the occasional twerk isn’t causing enough controversy, Cyrus also employs a bevy of dancers, including a midget and — by comparison — a giant African-American woman, as well as props that would make the Rolling Stones and the Beastie Boys proud, or possibly horrified. Late in the show, during the song “Someone Else,” Cyrus rode a giant hot dog suspended from the rafters in a move that came off more like a promotion for Pink’s hot dogs than a comparable act to fellow pop star Pink’s Cirque de Soleil-like acrobatics. “Love Party Money” had Cyrus writhing on a gold mini-4×4 vehicle like she was Tawny Kaitaen in an old Whitesnake video.
The show began with a gigantic image of Cyrus’ face on a video screen, with its eyes rolling. Finally, with a wink, the mouth opened to reveal a tongue-like slide to deliver Cyrus to the stage. From there, she went right into “SMS (Bangerz)” with a crew of eight dancers, and four others dressed as plush stuffed animals who could have escaped from a Flaming Lips gig.
For “#GETITRIGHT,” Cyrus frolicked on a giant bed as both female and male dancers, dressed in nighties and boxers, respectively, emerged from the covers for a faux orgy that was more ridiculously cute than scandalous.
Throughout the show, Cyrus went through enough costume changes to rival Cher, whose Bob Macke-designed clothes served as an inspiration, including a revealing red ringmaster getup she wore to open the show. She also donned a few variations of revealing chaps, including a Chicago Bulls-inspired red-and-black set that she wore to perform “23,” the ode to Michael Jordan from producer Mike Will Made It.
But at times, all the bells and whistles were a bit too much. Before the ballad “Adore You,” Cyrus encouraged the crowd to kiss with “the more tongue, the better” when the camera panned their way. Those images, splashed on screen in the middle of what appeared to be an engagement ring, were like a kiss-cam on steroids with some awkward girl-on-girl action from friends clearly performing for the camera, as well as some enthusiastic man-on-man tongue-lashing. While it made for an interesting voyeuristic experience, it distracted from what could have been the emotional high-point of the show, with Cyrus delivering a soaring vocal in a song which is believed to be about former fiance, actor Liam Hemsworth, penned before they split.
The semi-acoustic segment, in which Cyrus and the band magically appeared on the other side of the arena while the crowd with entertained with a video, was also hit-and-miss. A cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya” fell flat, zapped of the original’s energy, but of course it allowed Cyrus the opportunity to “shake it like a Polaroid picture.” Much better was her take on her godmother Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Unfortunately, the video screen wasn’t working during that song, leaving Cyrus with her back to much of the crowd.
Before it was all over, Cyrus busted out her biggest hits as encores, “We Can’t Stop,” “Wrecking Ball” and “Party in the USA.” While the former and latter were delivered with her outrageously costumed dancers and video screens in full effect, Cyrus sang “Wrecking Ball” on a bare stage, before her band eventually rose up to join her. It was then that her true talents as a vocalist could be appreciated. Hopefully, next time around, Cyrus will turn the shock and awe down just a few notches and allow her vocals more time to shine.
Love Money Party
Maybe You’re Right
Do My Thang
Can’t Be Tamed
Rooting For My Baby
On My Own
We Can’t Stop
Party in the U.S.A.
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