On Friday night, pop superstar Miley Cyrus took to the stage at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater to help put an exclamation mark on the first Summerfest in two years.
The festival ends Saturday night with a mainstage performance from Guns ‘N’ Roses.
The show was Cyrus’ fourth in Milwaukee – the first at a location other than the now demolished Bradley Center – and his first since 2014.
At a more crowded Summerfest than I’ve seen so far this year, the former “Hannah Montana” star soared through an ensemble that mixed hits from her 15-year career with a handful of pieces from his latest record, 2020’s “Plastic Hearts.
If I had been more careful over the past few years, I would have understood better that Cyrus has long since gone from the sweet pop of “Party in the USA” to the rock diva, with a churning hard rock band providing support.
Drawing inspiration from giants like Tina Turner and Debbie Harry and The Runaways, Cyrus adds a dose of sparkle to their edginess. After a long pause between songs, she said, “I was just touching my face” – something you can hardly imagine that a Joan Jett would ever do or say on stage.
Cyrus’ choice of covers on the show read like a business plan for her rocker aspirations: Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”, Janis Joplin’s “Maybe” – her solid take on that blues gem was a highlight – and Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Midnight”, which seems a natural fit given the similarities between Nicks’ and Cyrus’ gritty growls.
Bolstering his rock credibility, Cyrus interpolated Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to U” in some of his tracks on Friday.
Cyrus worked hard for about 90 minutes, playing tunes like “WTF Do I Know” and “Gimme What I Want” from the new record, adding a cover of “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” by Mark Ronson, and dosing the enthusiastic crowd. with previous hits like “Can’t Be Tamed”, “We Can’t Stop”, “Malibu” and, of course, “Wrecking Ball” and “Party in the USA”, which closed the evening.
This crowd – which was probably not at full capacity, must have been at least close enough – was on their feet all the time, often singing along with them. As you might expect, this band singing reached its crescendo during “Party in the USA”
As filming began, Cyrus ruminated aloud about the challenges everyone faced over the past 18 months and admitted that she was as affected by the isolation as anyone. The inability to perform in front of crowds due to the shutdown, she added, caused her to carefully consider the timing of the release of “Plastic Hearts”.
In fact, a few songs after a long hiatus, with the stage lights remaining dim for an unusually long period of time, Cyrus explained that she experienced a panic attack and took a moment to talk about it with a longtime companion. .
The singer controlled her anxiety well, it seems, as she seemed comfortable performing and addressing the crowd, which – aside from some disappointing chatter from louder fans as Cyrus poured out her heart. – clearly expressed his admiration.
Among the many gifts fans threw on stage was a Hannah Montana t-shirt that Cyrus donned before leaving.
In the end, Cyrus put on a solid, energetic show that gave his audience exactly what he came for and it appeared everyone – Cyrus included – had a blast.
Rapper Wiz Khalifa opened the show after being an 11th hour addition to Bill replacing Australian hip-hopper The Kid LAROI who canceled and almost simultaneously announced a major world tour of his own.
The U.S. dates for the tour – which will stop at The Rave in February – would all have sold out in under four minutes.
Khalifa performed in front of a huge crowd at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse (now the Generac Power Stage) at Summerfest in 2011, and returned to Milwaukee once again, in 2014, for the 103.7 KISSmas Bash 2014 at the Eagles Ballroom.
His 40-minute set – interspersed with frequent references to how much he enjoys smoking weed and getting high – was rich in dirty beats and thunderous bass and, again, the crowd was eagerly looking forward to the ride, singing alone on “Young, Wild & Free” and “See You Again”, with vocals pre-recorded by Charlie Puth.
“There is so much love here tonight,” Khalifa thought.
Khalifa, who recently performed with Cyrus on stage at Lollapalooza, returned to headlining a duet with Miley on “23”.