If you also happened to be stuck behind the world’s most infuriating stretch-limo driver on the 395 exit to Biscayne before the Miley Cyrus show in Miami Saturday night, it was hard not to be enchanted by the nearby sight of the Adrienne Arsht Center, lit up for its own special evening (the Cleveland Orchestra’s “The Planets”), its bold outline, a sort of origami flan cake, glowing warmly against a sky just ripening into purplish majesty.
We may take it for granted now, but when it opened in 2006 the Arsht Center, designed by Argentine Cesar Pelli, was a controversial game-changer for Miami, an audacious architectural metaphor for the city’s desire to throw off the old cliches, the familiar expectations, and be part of a new, youthful, modern conversation.
Which is sort of what Miley Cyrus was going for as she simulated a sex act on Abraham Lincoln Saturday night.
Much has been written about the former Disney moneymaker’s attempts to escape her wholesome TV upbringing, beginning with the famous Robin Thicke twerk last year, and the Bangerz tour that stopped at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday must have bleached any lingering stain of Hannah Montana left in South Florida.
Slithering down a bright pink slide made to look like a tongue unraveling from the gaping mouth on a giant projection of her own face, Cyrus lit into the Britney Spears collaboration “SMS (Bangerz)” to open the show, clearly ready to pull out every tool in her cynical bag of tricks.
Many of them were on display early with “Love, Money, Party,” when a small, shiny gold pimpmobile rose from under the stage with Cyrus reclining on the hood with her legs, barely covered in a high-waisted brief, extended in a suggestive “M” pattern. Many hip-hop cliches, stripper gyrations, crotch-grabbing and f-bombs ensued, as the song ended with Cyrus on her knees at the edge of the stage raining herself with dollar bills, the crowd (including a fair number of tweens, presumably with parents) applauding lustily.
Much of the night was a variation on that scene, as the 21-year-old Cyrus played up the tough, independent, sexually charged character she is now expected to play.
“Do My Thang” was a white-trash hoedown with Cyrus and her dancers in cowboy hats, bedazzled tops and faded denim cutoffs that you might see in a Dallas mall, with plenty of faux masturbation and a slide show of the singer at her most provocative. After a water break in which she spit large gulps of water onto eager fans in the front rows (complimenting the fans she thought received the water in a “sluttier” manner), Cyrus rolled onto an oversized bed that quickly filled with dancers in lingerie for “I Get It Right.”
The sincerity of her elegant ballad “Adore You” was ruined with a ballpark-style “kiss cam” feature that seemed interested only in awkward liplocks between young girls, some too young.
For “Can’t Be Tamed” a giant stuffed wolf about four stories high was wheeled onto the stage as Cyrus cavorted around in little more than black-and-white fur chaps. When Cyrus started humping the wolf’s leg, well, you had to wonder if there was some kind of joke to be in on.
Shortly after a light bondage video was shown, and the cellphone semaphore that greeted “Drive” had faded, Cyrus settled onto a stool on a small stage set up at the rear of the house, joined by her band (standard rock outfit: guitar, bass drums, keyboard). She was dressed in a relatively conservative, sparkly plaid jumper that covered her from neck to midcalf. What is to follow, she said, is her “favorite part of the show.” And it was remarkable.
A cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” from his 1975 album “Blood on the Tracks,” was given a jaunty country flourish, Cyrus’s dusky Tennessee twang reaching places you did not think it could go. Lana Del Ray’s mournful “Summertime Sadness” also got a straight, appreciative reading.
But the highpoint of the evening came when Cyrus embraced “The Scientist,” dialing back the theatrics and shifting her considerable vocal drive into a lower gear to deliver her “favorite Coldplay song.” An earnest, romantic ballad, “The Scientist” builds slowly to its emotional release and, at one point during the song’s rise, Cyrus was captured on the video screen on the side of the stage with a small smile on her face.
It seemed to be a candid moment, in which she looked more relaxed, more at home. And, of course, only she knew that she was about to bring down the house as she cranked into Coldplay’s refrain: “Nobody said it was easy. Oh, it’s such a shame for us to part. Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be so hard. I’m going back to the start.”
While Cyrus’ ticket-buying fans have quickly become accustomed to a new set of expectations -- rump-shaking, rap-faking, crotch-spanking, f-bomb-dropping bravado – she’s got the talent and vocal sophistication to be so much more some day. And, on some level, she knows it.
So when she hit the stage for her final encore, the irresistible anthem “Party in the U.S.A.,” accompanied by some walking, dancing national icons – Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell and Abe Lincoln – and proceeded to pleasure the 16th president, well, the happy ending may not be his alone.