A tour bus fire not only didn’t stop Miley Cyrus from getting to New Orleans in time to play her concert Tuesday night; it didn’t stop her from arriving in time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on Bourbon Street, where she sang a karaoke version of “Baby Got Back” at The Cat’s Meow.
Cyrus referenced her wild night a number of times during her show at the Smoothie King Arena, once before performing an acoustic cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” as compensation.
She also nodded to New Orleans when she sang Irma Thomas’ “Ruler of My Heart,” one of the more heartfelt moments in a show alternately dizzying and heavy-handed.
Cyrus has courted controversy in the past year, and the current tour has had its share. Some parents have complained about the sexuality of her performance, but Tuesday night’s show never seemed raunchy.
Sexuality was certainly a theme, but it was often juxtaposed with youthful elements that made things surreal more than racy. She was joined onstage by dancers in neon-colored animal suits, so that the show looked more like a live kids’ show, and she sang “#GetItRight” on a big, pink, girlie bed that was more slumber party than orgy, even when male and female dancers joined her to crawl on each other.
One adult moment came in a video that bought time for a costume change. It featured footage of the largely naked Cyrus in bondage-like poses, but they were obviously shot in imitation of the style of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and they turned psychedelic when the videos were manipulated so that eyebrows grew large and shell-like and her body morphed in distinctly non-sexual ways.
Other touches were simply light-hearted — a little person dressed in Britney Spears’ red catsuit, two dancers sharing a Mount Rushmore headdress during “Party in the U.S.A.”—but some were simply psychedelic.
At one point, she had a lovers’ quarrel with a Mr. Snuffleupagus-like puppet, and leaned on a giant, inflated husky while singing “Can’t Be Tamed.”
A squeeze bottle of mustard helped her on to the flying hot dog she rode over the audience while singing “Something Else” on the way to the end of the show.
Those absurd moments and a number of the backdrop graphics owe a debt to The Flaming Lips, one Cyrus acknowledged in February when she invited that band’s Wayne Coyne on stage to sing with her.
Cyrus was at her most rebellious when she challenged the world by playfully confusing it Tuesday night. On the other hand, her endless parade of marijuana leaf images — including the Statue of Liberty’s tiara — and regular use of the F-word made her seem someone whose idea of acting out is singing a Sir Mix-a-Lot song in a karaoke bar on Bourbon Street.
The dancing joint and lighters were so nutty that they were funny, but the pot leaf Mardi Gras beads she wore were simply touristy.
Not surprisingly, the audience was with Cyrus no matter what. It was young but not as young as you might expect, and Cyrus’ songs of being a young woman in transition trying to define herself spoke to them.
The energy flagged a little during the mini-set of covers played acoustically from a stage at the back of the arena, but those songs showed that she can sing country as she performed two Dolly Parton songs. From “Bangerz” at the start of the set, the audience danced to the club songs and emotionally felt the power ballads.
Women near me banged their heads to “Wrecking Ball” as if Cyrus had found the song’s words in their journals.
The show left a lot of questions. Did she hedge her bets by playing a mini-set that would have been at home at Jazz Fest in the middle of her show?
Is she exploring the range of her talents, or does she suffer from a touch of ADD? Is she pushing as many boundaries as she can, or is she just unfocused?
Are the lapses in taste symptomatic of anything other than youth? And if the show’s as much fun as it was, how much do those questions matter?