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Miley Cyrus wasn’t going to conquer the world with music alone. That much was abundantly clear from her records, which combine to make Britney Spears‘s catalogue seem like the collected works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

She’s had to travel other avenues to get to the top. She’s had to court controversy and generate hype, in a fashion that might make Madonna blush. She’s had to twerk and tease, shock and surprise, disrobe and dismay – with nothing less than complete abandon.

How’s that emphasis working for her? Well, let’s just say that she didn’t become a finalist for Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” based on the strength of her songbook alone. Cyrus seems to understand this, perhaps better than anyone.

Her current “Bangerz Tour,” which supports last year’s chart-topping album of the same name, is all about embracing her new role as pop culture’s premier wild child. It completely slams the door on her kiddie-pop past – the career-making stint on the Disney Channel‘s Hannah Montana – and attempts to position her in the same league with Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and other titans of the pop music world.

The big-budget tour mirrors its star. It’s full-on razzle-dazzle, pulsating with equal amounts of energy, ambition, personality and mediocre music. It’s also curiously complicated, with an air of desperation and a sense of compensation hovering over nearly every move.

Recently, in Oakland, the show offered up two fairly strong opening acts. The first was promising indie-rocker Sky Ferreira, who was also referenced by this crowd as “I have no idea who this person is.” Icona Pop was up next, and did a better job connecting with the audience. Yes, the duo really only has one song that we wanted to hear – and it’s one that we’ve all heard dozens of times before.

I don’t care. I love it.

Once the table had been set, it was time for the main course. The house lights dimmed and a huge headshot of Cyrus appeared, floating about on a video screen in back of the stage. Her eyes circled round and round, then her mouth opened, revealing a long tongue, which stretched to the floor. Out came Cyrus, sliding down the tongue and onto the stage. She raced toward the crowd, dropping an F-bomb in her first sentence, and we were off and running.

The 21-year-old star hit us first with SMS (Bangerz) and then quickly followed with another new album track, 4×4, while chaos reigned supreme onstage. The music was completely overshadowed by the swirling visuals – which, given the quality of the tunes, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was like a circus had set up shop at a lingerie store on the Fourth of July.

Cyrus wore some absurd outfits, such as a marijuana-themed green bodysuit and matching leaf medallion, most of which left very little to the imagination. The wardrobe was definitely risqué, perhaps even raunchy, underscoring the concerns that many parents reportedly had about their young ones seeing this show.

Ironically, this was not a sexy show – at least not in the same sense that one routinely gets from the likes of Rihanna, Beyonce and Shakira. Yet, Cyrus isn’t Rihanna, Beyonce or Shakira. She shoots for crude, and often hits the mark, but anything beyond that just feels fake and forced.

The best part of the night was when Cyrus and her band moved to a small stage erected at the back of the arena floor for a five-song acoustic set, which featured covers of Dolly Parton‘s Jolene, the Flaming LipsYoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1, Fleetwood Mac‘s Landslide and OutKast‘s Hey Ya!

Yet, that brief interlude – the rare moment when the music actually seemed to matter – was soon followed by more ridiculous high jinks. Cyrus returned to the main stage to boogie with a purple shark, a magenta monkey and other furry creatures, later high-stepping it with Abe Lincoln, Mount Rushmore and other American icons.

The main set ended as Cyrus flew off into the night, riding on a giant hot dog.

No, I didn’t make that last line up. But I wish I had.

Jim HarringtonVallejo Times Herald