Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Review: Miley Cyrus at the Wells Fargo Center

The former Hanna Montana in South Philadelphia.

Review: Miley Cyrus at the Wells Fargo Center

Miley Cyrus belts out her third song of the night at the Wells Fargo Center on August 2, 2014. ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Miley Cyrus belts out her third song of the night at the Wells Fargo Center on August 2, 2014. ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )

The song that Miley Cyrus sang on Saturday night while astride a giant hot dog suspended from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center is called "Someone Else." 

It's the last cut on Bangerz, the 2013 album whose breakout singles "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball" were accompanied by outre videos that made her the world's most Googled enfant terrible, the latest pop culture brat whose vulgar antics allegedly signal the end of civilization as we know it. 

When Cyrus sang "I've turned into someone else," on Bangerz, she was surely referring to putting her child star career as Hannah Montana behind her, as well shutting the door on former fiance Liam Hemsworth. But on Saturday in South Philadelphia, the now 21 year old pop provocateur seemed to be alluding to another, ongoing transformation.   

Sure, Cyrus played to outrageous type throughout the two-hour sold-out Bangerz show. She made her entrance by sliding down a giant inflatable facsimile of her own tongue, rubbing her crotch and twerking atop a bouncing gold plated car in "4x4," and dropping so many f bombs that even the Moms with the quickest hands couldn't move fast enough to cover their daughters' elementary school aged ears. 

And naturally, after being strapped into her hot dog by a dancer dressed as a mustard dispenser, she couldn't help but crack, "You know what I'm going to miss most about the Bangerz tour? Riding this wiener every night."

But Cyrus wasn't merely brash and sophomoric during Saturday's show, which was rescheduled from a date in April, postponed due to Cyrus' hospitalization after a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics.  She was certainly earnest in issuing ardent praise for Philadelphia, where she lived for two months in the summer of 2012 while Hemsworth was shooting a movie. "I got a lot of clarity about who I wanted to be when I was here," she said, recalling buying her first pairs of Doc Martens and door knob earrings on South Street. "This is by far one of the f------ best places in the world!"

And she was also straightforward and serious minded when it came to augmenting her own material - she performed all of Bangerz, plus two older hits, "Can't Be Tamed" and "Party In The U.S.A." - with a selection of covers designed to challenge herself and her shrieking, adoring, almost entirely female audience.

That calmed down segment of the show began with the version of The Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds" that she recently recorded with the Flaming Lips for the Oklahoma band's animal shelter charity. The song gave her an opportunity to talk about her recently deceased dog Floyd ("He loved me unconditionally, which is what we're supposed to do"), whose presence was felt at the show in the form of the 50 foot high canine statue with flashing eyes that was on stage while Cyrus sang her love ballad "Adore You."

The cover selection continued on a provisional stage set up for her band at the back end of the sports arena, where she sang The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out," Coldplay's "The Scientist" and "Jolene," by her Godmother, Dolly Parton. Cyrus performed the latter in a more than credible, irony free country version - she's a showbiz lifer with a poised, powerful vocal delivery - albeit one spiced up with a few choice words and lewd gestures directed at the song's titular hussy. 

Cyrus has been copiously criticized for her gauche behavior, from cartoonishly appropriating African American musical and dance forms, to annoyingly refusing to put that tongue back in her mouth. She's guilty as charged, of course, but she's also to be credited with being highly successful at loudly conveying the jumbled confusion of youth, in an often rude and usually entertaining manner. 

Her Bangerz show is filled with more well crafted catchy songs such as "#GetItRight" and "Rooting For My Baby" than you might care to admit. It's also funny, and doesn't come off nearly as preprogrammed and scripted as most over the top arena spectacles. During "We Can't Stop," dancers were outfitted as hands holding lighters in the air; in the "Party In The U.S.A." grand finale, red, white and blue Miley was accompanied by helpers dressed as Abe Lincoln, the Liberty Bell and Mt. Rushmore.

Musically, it's a mish-mash of styles - a lot of hip-hop here, a little country there, an intriguing sideline in psych-rock performance art, plus the cover version section (that some nights includes Bob Dylan and Lana Del Rey songs) that Cyrus says is her favorite part of the show.  But that unpredictable eclecticism is just a broad stroke representation of the new genre-jumping normal, and it's from some combination of those elements that Cyrus will become a new "Someone Else."  To paraphrase "We Can't Stop," it's her party and she can do what she wants.

Smart mouthed English snark queen Lily Allen opened, rap-singing  pop feminist tunes from this year's disappointing Sheezus and 2009's It's Not Me, It's You. The songs' satirical sophistication is targeted at a demographic a good ten years older than Cyrus' fan base, but the bouncy beats went over well with the crowd, who welcomed her as if she were a favorite Aunt. "Thanks for being so nice to me," Allen said, sounding greatly relieved.

Previously: Speedy Ortiz at OK Fest Follow In The Mix on Twitter

Dan DeLuca Inquirer Music Critic
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Dan DeLuca Inquirer Music Critic
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