Written by Live Nation Staff • Photography by Ellie Pritts • November 20, 2015
"The difference between a $40 Miley Cyrus shirt and an $80 Miley Cyrus pullover is the material," says Heidi, the merch girl at Thursday's kick-off show for Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz Tour. She removes the garments from a plastic bin and sets them down. "Here," she insists, guiding my hand. "You'll feel the difference."
Behind me are two eager fans. One, aviators covering his eyes and a spotted cow suit covering his body, udders dangling toward the floor; the other, wearing blue lipstick, silvery sequin shoes, and a matching Pom Pom wig. Each are sipping from Coors Light cans and taking selfies.
Last year Miley performed at Chicago's United Center to a sold-out crowd of 20,000 people. There she sang atop a gold car with oversized tires shortly before giving the vehicle a lapdance, wearing little more than boots, a gold chain, and a jacket covered in hundred dollar bills. Big Sean was also there, rapping inside a large bobblehead bearing his likeness.
Miley's presence at the Riviera Theater on Thursday night is different. Capacity here stops once 2,500 people, nearly a tenth of Miley's last Chicago visit. There is no room for a wrecking ball. Though Miley enters the stage teasing the crowd with the first few seconds of her 2009 hit "Party in the U.S.A.," that interlude quickly gives way to "Dooo It!," the opening number from her latest album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, released for free on Soundcloud.
The album, a detour into Beatles-era psychedelia, was produced by Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, Mike WiLL Made-It, and Miley herself. Onstage, she transcends the material into triumphant anthems; when Miley yells into the microphone, "Yeah, I smoke pot / Yeah, I love weed," the audience screams in ecstasy. Confetti and balloons forming the words "DO IT" descend from the ceiling.
"Can't you see the clouds are dying?" Miley muses onstage, wearing a costume shaped like the sun. Throughout the evening Miley will sing surrounded by drag queens, her backing band, and Coyne, all while exiting the stage to change into the following outfits: A crescent moon, a baby costume with the words "Gay Baby" embroidered on a bib, a glittery space suit, a stick of butter, and a skirt with large latex breasts above a strap-on dildo. At one point she swigs from a water bottle and spits onto an enthusiastic audience. At another, dollar bills are stuffed into her mouth.
And yet, despite the spectacle one might expect from Miley in 2015—post-VMAs, post-Terry Richardson photoshoots—the Miley present at the Riviera offered a different kind of nudity. No genitals were exposed. Instead, the soul of a pop star, if only for a moment.
"I always cry at this part," she whispers while seated at a piano, resting behind a spinning disco ball nearly as big as she is. "Twinkle Song," the closing number to Dead Petz and the highlight of the evening, borders on heartbreak. "I miss you..." she feigns, "so bad..." A tear forms. Miley slams the piano with her palms and returns to the stage, microphone in hand. As she performs the chorus her voice reaches such heights you fear her vocal chords will tear.
Miley, who turns 23 next week, has never been more electrifying. After the show, rabid fans didn't seem to care about her cameo in the Seth Rogen holiday comedy The Night Before, nor her appearance in the upcoming Netflix special A Very Murray Christmas. It didn't matter that the only hit Miley performed that evening was 2013's "We Can't Stop," in an encore. In the words of Russell, a fan wearing a Miley Cyrus shirt beneath a fur mink told me, "She's just getting started."
Before leaving the venue, I returned to the merch table to ask Heidi about the difference was between the $40 Miley Cyrus shirt and the $80 pullover. She smiled. "Polyester," she told me. "Nothing special. It's all about the experience."
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