By Selena Fragassi | For the Sun-Times
Like the 2016 summer Olympics, Chicago once again lost its chance to be a host city — this time for Miley Cyrus’ hugely touted “naked show.” Everyone seemed sure the sold-out opening night of her “Milky Milky Milk Tour” at the Riviera Theatre would be the one where she and her backup band the Dead Petz (aka The Flaming Lips) promised to film a music video in the nude. But even that wouldn’t have topped a bizarre night that was passionate and political, if not also a bit sloppy and scatterbrained.
Things were weird way before the show started. Outside the Riviera’s doors, concertgoers were greeted by two picket lines — one a group of anti-gay protesters, and another a crew of JAM Production’s recently fired stagehands who, until recently, worked for the Uptown venue (though this was a Live Nation event). Inside, a patron fell down series of stairs and cut his head open, which required an ambulance response. Security was tight with both hand-held metal detectors and pat downs of elaborate costumes.
Less than a week after the horrific events at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, tensions were still visibly high, especially for a hot-ticket performer like Cyrus who has spoken out very publicly about freedom of speech, women’s rights and sexual liberation — all of which came to a head as the night unfolded, to the delight of a supportive crowd that looked like Lisa Frank and Rainbow Brite met up at a furry convention.
“Thank you for not being afraid to come,” said Cyrus shortly after her set began and following a well-timed speech about the world needing more peace and love. Much of the show, when it was not about sex and weed, was literally all puppies and rainbows delivered in Pride flags, oversized balloons and a Technicolor coat costume as well as an on-stage appearance by a dog (perhaps her new adoptee).
Dealing with a string of former pet’s deaths (her dog named Floyd, Pablo the Blowfish and a friend’s cat called Twinkie — all of whom have songs written about them) led Cyrus to this new music project, one that took a “wrecking ball” to her pop star past to now experimenting in psychedelic R&B with Wayne Coyne and the rest of her Dead Petz. As such, much of the night was devoted to her August release “Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz,” except for “Love Money Party” and a closing number of “We Can’t Stop,” both from 2013’s “Bangerz,” which would have displaced her younger fans if this had not been a very necessary 18-and-over show.
After a five-minute warm-up from a trio of highly limber drag queens, the two-hour-plus set opened with “Dooo It,” Cyrus’ overdubbed tribute to marijuana, before slowing down dramatically for songs like “Something About Space Dude” and “Space Boots,” forlorn love odes with a trippy vibe that bore the trademark of Coyne and were perhaps the only reminders he was even in the room. Stepping away from his usual frontman role, Coyne stepped too far back. He could often be seen sitting down, acting as a sideshow assistant throwing out balloons and stage-mom coaching Cyrus into her next formidable act, such as taking dollar bills into her mouth from the eager crowd who pushed too heavy at times and were warned consistently by security to “back up,” especially after one girl collapsed. Cyrus briefly stopped the show to allow personnel to attend to the girl and later reported she was doing okay and “hanging out with Wayne.”
There were moments where Cyrus did take things seriously and even got downright spiritual such as the beautiful chanting on “Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz,” but a good deal of the show was fraught with first-night hiccups, such as admittedly taking way too long to change into eight costumes including those of a slab of butter, disco ball astronaut and unicorn with a strap-on to name a few; singing off-key at times; forgetting her own lyrics and how to play the piano chords on what would have been a stellar rendition of the highly-emotional “Twinkle Song,” which even she admitted she could never get through without crying.
“Guys I have no idea what I’m doing,” Cyrus said on a few occasions, but that was far from the case. Cyrus knew was she was doing — trying too hard to get there instead of maybe totally being herself. Hopefully she’ll work out the kinks as the tour progresses. After all, she does have seven more chances to strip down and truly expose herself to her crowd, both literally and musically.
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.
Love Money Party
The Floyd Song (Sunrise)
Something About Space Dude
Bang Me Box
Slab of Butter (Scorpion)
I Forgive Yiew
Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz
Milky Milky Milk
Pablow the Blowfish
Karen Don’t Be Sad
Evil Is But A Shadow
We Can’t Stop