CHICAGO — The year 1992 was a good one for Billy Ray Cyrus. He had a No. 1 country hit — and then a baby girl.
Today, that little girl — Miley Cyrus — is almost grown and doing some hit making of her own. But the only thing country about her is the “Achy Breaky” blood running through her veins.
This pop princess, known by every girl in America as Hannah Montana, brought her sold-out concert to Chicago Monday night (Jan. 14) for the second time. Presumably, her return visit was aimed at giving her enormous Midwestern fan base another shot at seeing her show. (A ticketing nightmare for a December appearance resulted in the concert selling out within minutes to ticket brokers. The same happened for Monday’s show, but at least the effort to put tickets in the right hands cast her in a good light.)
While Billy Ray has stayed true to the country roots he was born with, Miley (real name Destiny Hope) has veered off in a decidedly rock direction. Her raspy vocals would have sounded just right on country radio had she followed in her dad’s footsteps. She was even in Rhonda Vincent’s “If Heartaches Have Wings” video, but even that couldn’t tie her down to country music. Her decision to become a Disney darling looks like it was the right one, though.
Opening the United Center arena show as her alter ego from the Disney Channel series, Hannah Montana, she seemed to tell the crowd exactly who she is with the guitar-heavy “Rock Star.” Then the up-tempo punk-rock tunes came fast and furious after that. Her five-man band was content to stay in the background and do its job with quiet finesse. And the seven dancers flew around Miley in a constant choreographed whirl, costumed to portray the theme of every song.
Happy, little girl-power songs like “Life’s What You Make It” and “Nobody’s Perfect” were just the kind of songs the under-15 crowd wanted to hear and scream along with. And while she looked a little edgier after she lost the Hannah Montana wig and came out onstage as herself, the songs were all basically the same, but in a good way, though. Every single one has a positive message, without the slightest hint of teen angst or moodiness. Plenty had high-school themes and a handful had just-us-girls themes, like “Girls’ Night Out” and “We Can.”
So it’s no wonder her concerts, her image and her fan club are such a draw for tweens. While she’s under a bit of unnecessary media scrutiny lately, both for using a stage double and for some racy pictures of her and a close girlfriend, she still appears to be Tennessee wholesome. And at a time when her Hollywood peers are going to rehab and getting pregnant, it’s refreshing to know the worst thing she did at this show was keep thousands of kids up late on a school night.
The 90-minute show was packed with 18 songs and seven wardrobe changes emphasizing ubiquitous glitter, bling, black boots, tennis shoes, miniskirts, corsets and tank tops. While it distracted from the music to have her leave the stage every few songs just to change, it looks like she takes her role as a style icon very seriously.
But the most gorgeous moment of the night was the encore. Cyrus came out in bare feet, dark jeans, a simple white tank top and an acoustic guitar.
“This last song is the most important one,” she said humbly. “It was written for my granddaddy who passed away. It blesses me more than you can imagine.” She played and sang “I Miss You,” with minimal accompaniment, a bittersweet song about Billy Ray’s dad who died almost two years ago.
The only song that didn’t make the set list was the duet with her father, “Ready, Set, Don’t Go.” Thanks to the addition of Miley’s vocals, his single is now at No. 8 on the Billboard country chart. That song may very well push Billy Ray back onto country radio, where he hasn’t been much these days. Instead, he’s been busy playing Hannah’s dad Robbie Ray on her TV show and making the CMT reality series, Home at Last.