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MUSIC REVIEW

Cyrus rocks Garden but keeps it in check

Miley Cyrus's 90-minute concert last night at the TD Garden was surprisingly loose and driving. Miley Cyrus's 90-minute concert last night at the TD Garden was surprisingly loose and driving. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / November 10, 2009

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Miley Cyrus rippled the waters last week when she essentially disowned her current radio hit, a tasty slice of dance pop called “Party in the USA.’’ Asked in a video interview what her favorite Jay-Z song is, because “Party in the USA’’ mentions the radio playing it, Cyrus admitted she didn’t know anything by the hip-hop titan.

In fact, Cyrus said she recorded the song only because she needed something for her clothing line and does not really even listen to pop music. She prefers rockers Joan Jett and Janis Joplin. Feel free to insert a long eye roll here.

But after seeing Cyrus’s sold-out show at the TD Garden last night, her claim is much more palatable, even convincing.

The 90-minute concert, at times surprisingly loose and driving, presented the 16-year-old in a tricky position, not quite at a crossroads but definitely addressing some artistic growing pains. Cyrus seemed to be toeing the line between PG-rated tween pop star and an edgy rocker eager to transcend her “Hannah Montana’’ demographic.

Mind you, she played both roles well, but it was obvious Cyrus felt most at ease when the guitars were cranked, and she was sprawled on the stage, her long brown tresses sometimes sweeping the floor.

Yet she was keenly aware that her audience wants her as both innocuous balladeer and hell-raising rock star.

For the bland but inspirational fare (“Bottom of the Ocean,’’ “The Climb’’), Cyrus played it safe, occasionally in a tasteful gown; for the spiky pop-punk detours (“Spotlight,’’ “Fly on the Wall’’), out came the black leather shorts and streetwise break-dancers.

Cyrus covered Jett’s “I Love Rock ’N’ Roll’’ as she was air-lifted above the squealing crowd atop a red motorcycle. Interestingly, she dropped the Jay-Z reference during “Party in the USA,’’ instead swapping in a shout-out to Michael Jackson.

If the show was short on anything, it was Cyrus’s personality and ability to engage with the audience. We know she’s got impressive vocal chops, but now we need to feel what she’s trying to put across in her songs, something beyond the standard “you guys are awesome!’’ banter.

Her big brother had the opposite problem. Trace Cyrus co-fronts the emo-rock quartet Metro Station, which opened the show.

Trace had the rock-star aesthetic (tattoos, shaggy mane, pants as skinny as his voice), but he was barely audible as a singer or guitarist. The only time he rose above a whisper was when he shouted, “Ladies, scream!’’ That’s called all bark and no bite.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

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