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Live review: Miley Cyrus' 'Wonder World' concert at Staples Center

September 23, 2009 |  1:22 pm

The tween sensation sings and even raps with ease but offers very few glimpses of a real, more truly compelling Miley.

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The last time Miley Cyrus toured North America, in 2007, she didn't make the trip alone. Her money-minting "Best of Both Worlds" road show featured sets by both Cyrus and her Disney Channel alter ego, Hannah Montana, and as is often the case in this town, reality didn't always come out on top.

At a Honda Center stop in Anaheim, Cyrus, then 14, struggled to express herself in a way that lived up to her on-screen persona; when the concert climaxed with a virtual duet between Cyrus and a video version of Hannah, one of the girls seemed more two-dimensional than the other.

Nearly two years later, Cyrus is out on her own on the "Wonder World" tour, which hit Staples Center on Tuesday before a show at Honda on Wednesday. She wasn't in competition with Hannah this time, but Cyrus still had to battle herself.

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About halfway through the 90-minute set, after presenting a preview of her upcoming film, "The Last Song," Cyrus sang her tune "When I Look at You" while clips from the movie played on giant video screens positioned around the stage. Once again, make-believe Miley was more compelling than the real thing.

Her problem wasn't a lack of charisma. Cyrus stalked the stage at Staples with superstar authority, executing complicated dance sequences with an effortlessness that suggested this is simply what 16-year-old girls do with their pals.

During a cover of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," Cyrus rode a candy-apple Harley-Davidson over some audience members' heads, and she seemed so natural on the airborne bike that you wondered how long she's been in the business of flight.

Cyrus' trouble wasn't related to her material, either. Tuesday's show featured no shortage of crafty tween-rock gems, including "Fly on the Wall" and "7 Things," both up-tempo highlights from last year's "Breakout," as well as "See You Again," the first track from her first non-Hannah effort, "Meet Miley Cyrus."

She also performed the best cuts from her new Wal-Mart-exclusive mini-album, "The Time of Our Lives," which was released in conjunction with Cyrus' clothing line for the discount retailer. Her seven-piece band gave "Kicking and Screaming" a surprising hard-rock heft, while Cyrus managed a reasonable approximation of a rapper in "Party in the U.S.A."

In that song Cyrus changed a Jay-Z shout-out to a Michael Jackson one, her second reference to the King of Pop after a brief interpolation of "Thriller" into "Fly on the Wall."

Instead, Cyrus failed Tuesday -- as she did on her last outing -- to give her fans a deeper idea of who she is and what her music means. For all its eye-popping detail, the concert offered nothing that viewers of her TV show or buyers of her records don't already know about her.

Skeptics of computerized pop argue that this kind of music isn't built for meaning, but that's demonstrably untrue. Last week at the same venue, Pink spent two hours fleshing out her persona not by rejecting spectacle but by embracing it. Cyrus, on the other hand, seemed unable, or unwilling, to go beneath the skin.

--Mikael Wood

Photo credits: WireImage

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