6:30 p.m. came and went on Wednesday, and Miley Cyrus fans in Charlotte breathed a collective sigh of relief as they were ushered into Time Warner Cable Arena without incident, in the absence this time of an announcement that their hero had suddenly come down with the flu.
Almost four months after the 21-year-old pop star used that excuse as she abruptly canceled a concert here on April 7, she returned with an apology – and while she didn’t admit the flu wasn’t her real problem back then, that was the impression we were left with.
“For any of you guys that may have been on the way to the show last time, I’m sorry. I was in a totally different place last time,” Cyrus said, referencing the April death of her beloved dog, Floyd.
This was the only sobering moment over the course of a night that celebrated many not-so-sobering things. Among them: Partying, marijuana use, nudity, casual hooking up, middle fingers, butt cleavage, long tongues and – of course – twerking.
I challenge you to find another time in the history of live music when a pop singer has begun a concert by sliding down a giant tongue protruding from her own likeness.
Or another time when a performer has covered one of the greatest songs of all-time (“Jolene,” first recorded in 1973 by Cyrus’ godmother, Dolly Parton) while jabbing at the air with a yellow foam finger and twirling a bra in circles with her other hand.
You could fill a notebook with descriptions of the weirdness on display Wednesday night. I did. And I’d still be hard-pressed to tell you what moment qualified as the most bizarre.
It might be the giant floating orange tabby cat that lip-synched while Cyrus belted out “We Can’t Stop” during the encore. Or it might be “Ren & Stimpy” animator John Kricfalusi’s visuals, which at one point had a zombie-fied version of Miley on a Jet Ski battling a baby doll head spewing bolts of electricity from its mouth.
There was the huge statue of deceased pup Floyd that she writhed against as she sang “Can’t Be Tamed”; the break during which she spent several minutes spitting water onto oddly rapturous fans in the first couple rows; at one point, the stage was populated by persons dressed as a purple shark, a green tiger, a blue bear and a pink gorilla.
At this point, I’m guessing people who couldn’t care less about Cyrus have already bailed, which is too bad, because here’s the surprising news: Beneath all the audaciousness was a fair amount of awesomeness.
Her voice was both flexible and appropriately raw. On songs like “Drive,” it had a gravelly Stevie Nicks quality. On “Jolene,” she made you believe she could hit big with a country CD. She turned a verse of “Party in the U.S.A.” into a cool, cocky rap, and gave a rough-around-the-edges hipness to her cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”
She didn’t lip-synch a word.
Throughout, she managed to come across as gracious and accessible, bantering with fans and accepting pretty much any gift that came her way. During “Maybe You’re Right,” she collected a headband, two foam fingers, a stuffed monkey and a stuffed dog, juggling all of the items in addition to a gold mini-backpack she was cradling.
There were more than a half-dozen costume changes over the course of her hour-and-45-minute set, most of which found her in leotards or body suits that appeared to be giving her an awfully uncomfortable wedgie.
But they didn’t give her the flu, and for that, her fans can be thankful.