Miley Cyrus baffles more than thrills with Dead Petz

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Late into Miley Cyrus’ sold-out concert at the Fillmore Detroit Saturday night, the second show of her brief club run with Her Dead Petz (aka her backing band, Oklahoma oddballs the Flaming Lips), she commented on reaction from the tour’s opening two nights prior in Chicago.

Miley Cyrus fronts Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz Saturday at the Fillmore Detroit.

“People were shocked!” Cyrus said. “I thought that part was over?”

True, we should no longer be shocked by the antics of Cyrus, the former Disney teen queen who is so far beyond her life as squeaky clean sitcom star that at this point the most shocking thing she could do is go back to “Hannah Montana.”

And yet there she was on stage, wearing bondage gear, prosthetic breasts and an artificial erect male organ, along with a purple glitter wig, a tail and a unicorn horn (she referred to herself, rather poetically, as a “pornicorn”).

So what did it all mean? Did it mean anything? And if not shock, what was the proper reaction?

The answer to the third question, all too often, was boredom.

Saturday’s concert, which spanned two hours and 10 minutes and 22 songs, was sometimes thrilling but was mostly a listless slog through half-baked songs and sparks of ideas that never made it past the spark stage.

Last year, Cyrus’ Bangerz tour was a colorful, madcap romp that functioned as both a modern pop spectacle and an explosion of the singer’s id. The Milky Milky Milk tour, as the Dead Petz excursion is dubbed, played like the rejected ideas from the Bangerz tour staged with leftover props from the Flaming Lips’ last roadshow.

The themes and visuals on display Saturday were like one of the club descriptions from “SNL’s” Stefon: “New York’s hottest new club is Dead Petz. They’ve got space suits, adult babies, human butter sticks, ballads about dead blowfish, and a special performance by house band the Flaming Lips.”

But once the novelty of the wall-to-wall zaniness wore off, there wasn’t much else to grab onto and the energy flagged.

Miley Cyrus fronts Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz Saturday at the Fillmore Detroit.

The show was built around the “Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz” album, a free set of songs released online following Cyrus’ hosting gig at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The album itself feels like a collection of demos rather than fully fleshed out songs, with rough sketches for maybe two or three keepers among the exhausting 23 tracks.

The topics center on sex, the environment, self-expression, love, loss and the cosmos, filtered through the pseudo-philosophical introspection of a heavily stoned 22-year-old. The album is at best meandering, at worst an exercise in patience-trying tedium.

The same went for Saturday’s show. Even with the aid of an elaborate visual presentation and playful costumes that looked like they were raided from an elementary school theater department, things never picked up after the explosive opener, which with all the balloons and confetti flying around looked like a hurricane had torn through a Party City.

It was difficult to find the center on songs such as the raunchy “BB Talk” (which found Cyrus and her dancers dressing as babies) and “Fweaky” (presented as a kaleidoscopic strip tease), as well as “Slab of Butter” (where Cyrus dressed up as, you guessed it, a slab of butter).

Musically, Miley was all over the place, chanting while playing a singing bowl during “Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz” and eulogizing her pet blowfish on “Pablow the Blowfish,” to which she could barely remember the words. “Something about dead?” she wondered aloud, trying to remember the beginning of one of the verses, signaling her level of commitment to the song.

There were times when she fully connected with the material; for “Tiger Dreams” she donned a glittery space suit and performed in front of a gigantic mirror ball, creating a blinding effect that slowly sucked you into the song’s gravitational pull. Other times she swung and missed; “what does it mean?” she screamed over and over at the close of “Twinkle Song,” a question many may have found themselves asking.

Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne, a kindred spirit to Cyrus in her current period of self-discovery, played both the role of proud papa and creepy uncle to his young protege. The visual bonanza of the production beared his signature, right down to the LED strands above the stage that looked like alien tentacles, and Cyrus has either consciously or unconsciously picked up some of his signature moves (she clenched her fists and reached for the sky several times during the show). But in such a highly sexualized environment, his presence felt a bit strange, like if Bruce Springsteen started suddenly spending a lot of time with Nicki Minaj.

But this is their project together, so maybe they know something the rest of us don’t. Or maybe there’s nothing to know at all? Either way, it seems the ship could use some steering. The Petz aren’t dead, but they do seem lost.