Miley Cyrus Brings Her Dead Petz for a Messy, Psychedelic Performance in Detroit: Live Review

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Every time I attend a Miley Cyrus show, I can’t help but think about the night I saw her for the very first time.

It was five summers ago. She was dancing next to me at Vain, a now defunct electronic music club a few blocks down the road from the Fillmore Detroit, where we're currently at. In town that summer to shoot the film LOL, Cyrus was wearing nothing but black gym shorts and a cut-off T-shirt at an otherwise upscale club, appearing bolder, rawer and braver than the Hannah Montana persona that shaped her childhood career. While lost in a flurry of techno beats, Cyrus flashed her trademark smile and threw her hands up in the air, with the aura and tenacity of a teenager who had finally found her calling.

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That night signified an important moment in pop culture, but we had no idea how important it would become.

“Detroit’s where I felt like I really grew up," Cyrus later told Rolling Stone in a 2013 cover story interview. "It was only for a summer, but that's where I started going to clubs, where I got my first tattoo.”

Detroit changed Cyrus and there’s no denying it. Since her summer in the Motor City, she carved out and perfected the shock-pop diva mentality that today’s world both loves to hate and hates to love, a mentality so fixated that she continues to one-up herself as if to tease, “You haven’t seen the wildest part of me yet.”

And Saturday night (Nov. 21), she made that very clear at her Fillmore Detroit show, which marked Cyrus’ first return to Detroit proper since that pivotal summer of 2010 (last year’s Bangerz tour stopped at a nearby suburb). Flanked by her Dead Petz -- aka members of The Flaming Lips -- Cyrus took an arena-sized performance and crammed it into a club venue for the second stop of the ultra-psychedelic Milky Milky Milk tour, going so overboard and so over the top that no other pop star on earth, not even Madonna, could match its excessive nature. But it didn't work as planned.

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Running just over two hours in length, the show fell somewhere in the middle of a Flaming Lips stage prop convention and a bad acid trip, the kind where you see things that can never be unseen and later on you wish you could. As Cyrus and her Dead Petz opened with a mashup of “Party in the U.S.A.” and “Dooo It,” the Fillmore was filled with giant “Do It!” balloons in traditional Flaming Lips style -- so many, in fact, that the stage was completely hidden for several minutes. While the set largely focused on the 23-track psych-pop selection of Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, a few earlier catalog numbers snuck their way in, like “Love, Money, Party” from Bangerz.

Cyrus openly admitted to being drunk -- “my birthday is in two days,” the almost 23-year-old reminded the crowd -- and often lost energy, giving the performance the feel of a middle school science fair gone astray. Singing (and sometimes shrieking) at the top of her lungs while dressed in outfits that ranged from a sun to a moon to a baby and even a slab of butter, Cyrus used her flamboyancy as a means to encourage fans to be different.

“No one is going to judge you here because all of us are freaks,” she said shortly after stripping off her sun costume to don an acoustic guitar.

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By the end of the set, Cyrus had dedicated poignant love songs to a number of pets both dead and alive-- her blowfish (“Blowfish, if they only knew you like I do!” she cried with passion), a friend’s cat who recently passed away, her faithful dog companion Floyd, who also recently passed away -- and lectured her audience on the importance of having compassion toward animals.

She fell to the ground in a heap of emotions, time and time again, and often found herself lost in nostalgia (there was talk of getting hamburgers as a child with her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, but the moral of the story was left untold). At one point, Cyrus even channeled her inner Daft Punk, silhouetted by the glow of a giant disco ball as she danced away to “Tiger Dreams” in a silver sequined body suit paired with a silver helmet.

Yet all of the confetti, streamers, rainbow lights dead animal eulogies could stop the show from being scattered to the point of sloppiness. It was as if the band got together and jokingly decided to go on tour, winging the entire agenda without a single rehearsal. Perhaps that was the idea, though, to throw all seriousness out the window, because Cyrus made it clear -- over and over -- that she and her band were here for one reason only: to have a good time. And they did, or at least Flaming Lips lead vocalist Wayne Coyne had a good time.

Coyne, 54, backed Cyrus like a personal cheerleader, taking photos like a doting father and hugging her with every chance he got. The two paraded around onstage, their chemistry electric, while the rest of the Dead Petz all but faded into the background. With Coyne’s musical role largely converted into a supporter role, the band members actually making music seemed completely unconnected and detached from their surroundings -- it’s as though they didn’t even exist.

But it’s hard to compete with Coyne, an enigmatic frontman trained to entertain, and Cyrus, who shows us time and time again that we’ll never see how high her freak flag can actually fly. Dressed as a “pornicorn” to close the evening (a “pornicorn” is a combination of a sparkly purple wig, unicorn horn, sunglasses, giant strap-on dildo, prosthetic breasts, and a rainbow tail), the final number -- a very fitting “We Can’t Stop” -- proved that this is her party and she can do what she wants to.

Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz - Saturday, Nov. 21 / Fillmore Detroit Album Review