LOUISVILLE — It was a year ago this month that Miley Cyrus got everybody's attention.
During her appearance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, the Disney product and musical artist/TV character/child star formerly known as Hannah Montana delivered a scantily-clad, tongue-wagging, twerking performance that would live in infamy, launch her into another level of musical stardom and sear its way into the pop culture consciousness. And that was after appearing on stage for a mere three minutes.
Imagine what she could do in two hours.
The 13,000-plus in attendance at the KFC Yum Center Saturday night didn't have to. It is safe to say that since the Yum Center's opening, it has yet to host a show quite like this — a campy, cartoonishly over-the-top spectacle and musical showcase that was unforgettable for reasons good, bad, hilarious and just plain weird.
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After making an entrance with a balloon drop while descending down a tongue slide that came out of a projection of her own face, Cyrus launched into a trio of energetic and diverse tracks from her latest album, Bangerz, with the synthy rush of the title track; the knee-slapping, country-inspired 4X4 and the hip-hop bounce of Love Money Party. What the audience saw during these three songs would be best captured with a list, and that still wouldn't cover everything: a little Britney Spears impersonator, neon-colored mascots, a giant rapper bobblehead doll and a gold low rider that shot money from its rims, on which Cyrus danced, gyrated or sat with her legs spread akimbo in an outfit that left little to the imagination (a wardrobe theme for much of the evening).
The rest of the show was just as insane. It was like having a bad acid trip while binging on YouTube and the Cartoon Network with Cyrus serving as crotch-grabbing, booty-shaking, middle-finger-flipping ringmaster. The elements of her performance were so ridiculously excessive, gaudy and giddily out there, I have never laughed out loud so many times at a music concert.
You can't help but admire (or scratch your head at) the woman's go-big-or-go-home approach.
Oh yeah, there were songs too.
Much of Cyrus' original material she performed consisted of tracks from her latest album, as well as a sprinkling from 2010's Can't Be Tamed, her first but only moderately successful attempt to distance herself from her clean-teen image. Many of the tracks were upbeat and kept the crowd percolating most of the night, but were almost always accompanied with something crazy to gawk at on stage or marvel at on the big screen. She rolled around in a giant bed with an eclectic cast of characters on #GetItRight. She sang about embracing her wild side on Can't Be Tamed while looking up at a 30-foot tall wolf with glowing eyes. On the scorned waltz FU, she verbally jousted with a Sesame Street-esque, bi-pod puppet twice her size. Even some of her more vulnerable songs were undercut with silly visuals, like when she flew around on a giant hot dog at the end of Someone Else or took the sincerity of Adore You and reduced it to fodder for incorporating a kiss cam on the screen behind her where she encouraged members of the audience to make out with the person next to them, regardless of gender.
Where as most pop stars have no problem reaching back deep into their catalog to play their earliest hits, that doesn't appear to be an option for Cyrus. No Hannah Montana flashbacks here. If you were hoping she would belt out The Climb, one of her earliest and most popular hits, this was not your night.
But that didn't stop the crowd from emphatically shouting the lyrics to many of her new tracks. Laugh all you want, but she's not a joke to her rabid fans. They sang the chorus to Do My Thang to near deafening levels, and it isn't even one of her hit singles. And they swayed and filled the arena with cell phone lights on Stand By Me.
There were moments when the on-stage antics were put aside, and you got glimpses into the person behind the entertainer. She chatted with the audience, (sometimes too long at a volume that was inaudible over the loud speakers) and said she was grateful to perform in Louisville so she could hang out with her family, that we should save animals and that she's ADD and a hoarder (the crowd throwing bras, blow-up unicorns and inflatable bananas she collected on stage wasn't doing anything to quell that habit). Her self-proclaimed "favorite part of the show" didn't even prominently feature her own songs, as she ventured out onto a small satellite stage on the back of the floor with her large band to do an acoustic session of songs like Dolly Parton's Jolene and fellow pop star Lana Del Rey's Summertime Sadness wearing nothing but an over-sized T-shirt covered in her own likeness.
While the bulk of her setlist had a few lulls in energy, her encore didn't disappoint.
The crowd erupted for the opening notes of We Can't Stop and kept going when things slowed down for Wrecking Ball. The latter was the highlight of the night, and not because of anything visual. The costumed characters vanished and the screen was black, with Cyrus belting out one of the best pop power ballads in recent memory with only a smattering of lights. It was a reminder that beneath it all, Cyrus has a voice — and a pretty big one, at that. It could have ended there (and actually looked like it would), but not before Cyrus and her band broke into Party in the U.S.A. Of course, Cyrus' vision for this party featured everything from Abraham Lincoln to a little person dressed as the Liberty Bell. In full Americana regalia and a blonde wig, Cyrus descended under the stage with a shower of confetti, waving, flashing peace signs and donning a mouthpiece of yellow crooked teeth you could find at a Halloween store, just further emphasizing something she sang earlier in the night: Regardless of what you think or what you believe Cyrus should do, she's going to do her thang.