“You guys don’t have any idea what the fuck is going on right now, do you?” Miley Cyrus queried the crowd at Los Angeles’ Staples Center as she performed The Flaming Lips’ 2002 number “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1” for the second time in a row.
Cyrus, who kicked off her Bangerz Tour on February 14 in Vancouver, invited Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips to join her on a secondary stage located at the back of the venue’s floor midway through her 22-song set on Saturday evening. Barely containing her excitement, Cyrus squealed, “You don’t understand what this means right now,” telling Coyne “I’m so fucking scared.” “Now I’m scared,” Coyne responded before the trio performed the Lips’ classic single along with Cyrus’s band.
“It was my only time to sing with you, Miley, and I fucked up,” Coyne said afterwards (for the record, he didn’t – the cover was notably and surprisingly well done), prompting Cyrus to ask if he was drunk. “I’m a little bit drunk right now too,” she revealed. “Let’s do it again.” So in an unprecedented pop show moment, Cyrus played the same song twice in a row just because she could. “This is the best night of my entire life,” she shouted after.
Although her duet with The Flaming Lips is so far a one-off experience on the Bangerz Tour, her decision to offer a redux of a song with which most of her fans lack familiarity exemplifies Cyrus’s overall stage aesthetic. Watching the show, which is in support of last year’s inconsistent but compelling album ‘Bangerz,’ was like peering into Cyrus’s pot-addled brain. It’s easy to imagine the meeting from where much of the production ideas emerged (“I have an idea,” you can hear Cyrus saying, “I should fly off the stage on a giant hot dog with a mustard saddle”). The recurrent theme throughout the set was the singer herself, each element reflecting the fun, sexed up, drugged out vibe she’s been cultivating over the past year.
From the opening number, “SMS (Bangerz),” which brought Cyrus onstage through a giant image of her own mouth on a pink tongue slide, there was a sense of unabashed glee apparent in the show. Her dancers quickly jumped between costumes, veering from animal furry suits to red and white gingham cowboy outfits to skimpy underwear. A massive orange muppet marched onstage during “FU,” following Cyrus down the stage’s runway that led out into the crowd. The singer thrashed around in a giant bed alongside several half-naked male dancers during “Get It Right,” telling the audience “I’d like you guys to get in bed with me.” She writhed against a two-story high wolf with glowing blue eyes during “Can’t Be Tamed,” a single off her 2010 album of the same name.
Most notably – and clearly not previously choreographed into the set – was Cyrus’s kiss with Katy Perry, who was watching the performance from the front row. During her rendition of recent single “Adore You,” Cyrus was frequently distracted because she’d asked the audience to make out with each other during the song in an effort to get on the stage’s giant video screens. “I don’t know if you know this, but tongue is really appreciated at a Miley Cyrus show,” the singer encouraged. Her performance of the emotional track became choppy as she watched the amped up crowd members tongue each other vigorously and was prompted to join in as she spotted Perry. “I just kissed a girl and I really liked it a lot,” Cyrus announced.
The majority of the set featured mostly direct versions of the tracks off Bangerz, including sleeper hit “Drive,” which Cyrus offered solo onstage with little fanfare, and thumper “Do My Thang.” Prior to The Flaming Lips’ arrival, Cyrus covered her old standby “Jolene” as well as OutKast’s “Hey Ya,” which she remodeled as an acoustic country number. Cyrus’s costumes changed over 10 times and the production varied by number.
Her best look came three songs in when she appeared spread-eagle on a life-sized gold car, clad in a leotard covered in sequined pot leaves and a pot leaf gold chain for “Love Money Party.” The gold car rolled forward to the front of the stage with Cyrus still spread across it and as she humped the car’s windshield dollar bills flew up around her. (It’s notable that Cyrus’s in-ear monitors were also gold and also featured the image of a pot leaf.)
“I don’t know if you know this,” Cyrus told the audience at one point, “But Staples Center isn’t usually like this. These people are usually so fucking bougie, but you guys are so turnt up right now.” Indeed, the audience, made up mostly of teenage girls who resembled the younger Kardashian sisters, screamed loudly throughout, their cries as equally deafening as those at a One Direction or Justin Bieber concert. Cyrus seemed genuinely grateful for the support, repeatedly thanking the crowd and telling her fans that “it doesn’t feel too shitty to have as many people as this place holds yelling that they love you.”
The two-part encore was expected: Cyrus performed her singles “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” before concluding with a raucous version of “Party In the U.S.A.,” during which she pretended to blow President Lincoln as fireworks and confetti flew.
It was “Wrecking Ball,” though, that aptly punctuated the show. Cyrus has often allowed her shock value production and visuals to overshadow her music, and instead of distracting us with the image of her nude on a massive ball, here she stood alone on the darkened stage and just sang. The deeply emotional quality of the song translated better than it ever has previously – even Cyrus found herself choked up during the final chorus, tears sparkling on her cheeks.
That was the singer’s greatest triumph on her Bangerz Tour, which continues through April 24 with openers Sky Ferreira and Icona Pop, both of whom pumped up the crowd with abbreviated, energized sets that were immediately forgotten once Cyrus slid down that tongue. For Cyrus, this tour is an opportunity to express herself in an extended version, one that contextualizes each song in its own strange world. She did that in a smaller way at last year’s AMAs and iHeartRadio Music Festival, but given two hours of freedom, Cyrus is clearly able to generate both emotional gravity and buoyant fun.
At its best the Bangerz Tour is a drug-induced fever dream, replete with flying hot dogs and psychedelic video imagery of a zombie Cyrus riding a jet ski through purple water while a baby doll head shoots lightening at her. It’s a forum for the singer to do whatever she wants – even if that means playing a song her fans have never heard of twice in a row. The theory that if she’s having fun we will too was tested last evening, and so far it holds true.