Review: Miley Cyrus kicks off her tour at the Riviera

20 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Miley Cyrus exposes a lot, but not all, in scatterbrained tour kick-off in Chicago.

Maybe it was when Miley Cyrus appeared onstage wearing a purple fright wig, a horse’s tail and a giant rubber strap-on dildo that her show turned from playful irony to painful overstatement.Everyone seemed sure the sold-out opening night of Miley Cyrus’ “Milky Milky Milk Tour” at the Riviera Theatre would be the one where she and her backup band the Dead Petz (aka The Flaming Lips) promised to film a music video in the nude.Over the course of two-plus hours at her Dead Petz tour opener, Miley Cyrus put on one of the most fantastically strange shows in recent memory, notable for the blunt muchness of every possible aspect.

Backed by an assortment of wildly costumed friends and in collaboration with the Flaming Lips, Cyrus dumped her id and, song by song, dismantled the public pop construction of our (mis)understading of who she is. Filled with momentum-sapping pauses and anything-goes disorganization, the uneven two-hour concert often came across as the inverse of shows typically staged by arena-level pop stars. The spectacle was by turns glorious, turgid, porny and willfully amateur — the latter aspect being the real source of surprise and entertainment, and a seeming relief for Cyrus herself. Everything Cyrus has done in the past several years has put greater distance between Miley the Disney product and the oft-controversial pop figure she has become. Cyrus’ colorful pageantry evoked a combination of adult-rated Halloween party, low-budget “Kinky Boots,” acid-damaged commune and theatrical variety show.

Outside the Riviera’s doors, concertgoers were greeted by two picket lines — one a group of anti-gay protesters, and another a crew of JAM Production’s recently fired stagehands who, until recently, worked for the Uptown venue (though this was a Live Nation event). Onstage at the Riveria Theatre in Chicago on Thursday night, playing to a heavily costumed (think rave plushies) crowd of 2000, she seemed relaxed and joyous, as if had finally arrived at what she has been working towards this whole time. Lips bandleader Wayne Coyne played sideman and chuckling accomplice to Cyrus, though for a few-song stretch he returned to his seemingly perdurable role of Giant Balloon Shepherd, as the successive stadium-grade drops of inflatables crowded the room.

Her label, RCA, doesn’t consider the free stream-only release an official album and you can see the logic: clocking in at over 90 minutes, the 23-track album has moments of greatness but only if you have patience. While operating outside the confines of normalcy, Cyrus seemingly possessed no interest in shock value or embracing an outré guise for the sake of commercial strategy. The band and Cyrus were loose but faithful to Dead Petz, making their way through almost the entire 23-track album before closing with “We Can’t Stop.” Opening with “Dooo It,” clad in a golden, thonged onesie, and matching suit coat with the letters “D” and “O” in lieu of lapels, and moon boots, Cyrus stomped and strutted, free of choreography. Less than a week after the horrific events at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, tensions were still visibly high, especially for a hot-ticket performer like Cyrus who has spoken out very publicly about freedom of speech, women’s rights and sexual liberation — all of which came to a head as the night unfolded, to the delight of a supportive crowd that looked like Lisa Frank and Rainbow Brite met up at a furry convention. “Thank you for not being afraid to come,” said Cyrus shortly after her set began and following a well-timed speech about the world needing more peace and love.

Flanking her on the side of the stage was her trusty dancer-cohort Amazon Ashley, in a rainbow Afro wig, a giant dollar sign hanging between her breasts, which were covered only with money-bag pasties. Much of the show, when it was not about sex and weed, was literally all puppies and rainbows delivered in Pride flags, oversized balloons and a Technicolor coat costume as well as an on-stage appearance by a dog (perhaps her new adoptee).

When Cyrus mimed suckling on them, it seemed like perhaps this roll-out of Dead Petz stood to become a rehash of familiar tropes and trespasses, but by the end of her epic set, it seemed unlikely we might ever get that old stadium-sized Miley and her tongue back. Whereas many stadium artists turn to smaller venues when they want to express vulnerabilities, or just feel the need to recast their music in a more stripped-down setting, Cyrus simply brought the stadium with her and crammed it through the doors. The activism — and Cyrus’ revelation that she’s pansexual — parallels her transition away from Top 20 pop, a style she primarily ignored Thursday.

Cannons plunged the audience in a downpour of confetti, dozens of balloons were dispatched over the bobbing heads of her fans, a colossal disco-ball descended from above, drag queens performed the splits, and minions padded behind the star attraction dressed as rainbows, animals, and even a set of teeth. After a five-minute warm-up from a trio of highly limber drag queens, the two-hour-plus set opened with “Dooo It,” Cyrus’ overdubbed tribute to marijuana, before slowing down dramatically for songs like “Something About Space Dude” and “Space Boots,” forlorn love odes with a trippy vibe that bore the trademark of Coyne and were perhaps the only reminders he was even in the room. Occasionally, all the camp, props, balloons and confetti threatened to — literally and metaphorically — cloud the centerpiece, which is Cyrus’ voice, as huge and unadorned as it’s ever been.

In those moments of balloon fatigue and “this song’s about pussy!” declarations (Cyrus’ own), all of this felt more ironic than gleefully goofy, some caustic lark or high-budget fuck you, but invariably the performers wheeled the event back to being a proper show filled with peace and hedonism. He could often be seen sitting down, acting as a sideshow assistant throwing out balloons and stage-mom coaching Cyrus into her next formidable act, such as taking dollar bills into her mouth from the eager crowd who pushed too heavy at times and were warned consistently by security to “back up,” especially after one girl collapsed.

It was as if a magic wand had suddenly sent the middle school pageant to Broadway: so many of the gestures, as simple as they were, looked expensive but didn’t have much else going for them. Parading around in costumes that transformed her into a stick of butter, the sun, the moon, a big baby and a disco-savvy astronaut, among other identities, Cyrus treated seriousness and traditional gender rules as adversaries. She blatantly talked and sang about sex on her own terms, parodying strip-tease antics during “Fweaky” and praising the carnal delights of lesbian love on “Bang Me Box.” For Cyrus, fluidity, peace and pot conquered all. Cyrus also benefited in that the uncomfortable behavior of Wayne Coyne — who watched the singer with the sleazy resolve of a dirty uncle — distracted from her worst instances.

It suddenly felt like this is the Miley we’ve been waiting for — or rather, the Miley we really deserve. 2015 may not bring everything that Back to the Future II promised it would: flying cars, self-lacing shoes, we don’t see ’em happening over the next 12 months. (Then again, don’t bet against Nike.) But this year will definitely pack plenty of punch when it comes to cultural happenings. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again. The gauzy folk-pop of Karen Don’t Be Sad is a highlight on the album, but while performing it live, Cyrus wanted all attention directed to that swinging dildo. Then again, the twin musical themes of the two-hour, 15-minute show were getting baked and getting laid and no, they were not as provocative as intended.

But this tour is further evidence that her carefully manicured transition from child star to adult mega-wonder is cumbersome because it is such an oversell.

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