Five years is basically a lifetime in pop music, a fact that Miley Cyrus knows well and has used to her advantage. The last time she played at TD Garden, in 2009 to another sold-out crowd, Cyrus came to town at something of a crossroads. She was distancing herself from the brand that made her a star, the Disney TV show “Hannah Montana,” but still hadn’t emerged as the hell-raiser she would soon become.
When she returned Wednesday night, she arrived supersized: more raunch, more attitude, more confidence, more hits. It was like seeing an entirely different performer, this one more at home in her own skin (and showing plenty of it) and quite clear that she doesn’t give a damn. This is Miley Cyrus rebooted, take it or leave it.
Except what was supposed to be an all-out party, as it has been on previous tour stops, turned into a very public (and touching) display of catharsis. One of Cyrus’s dogs, Floyd, had died the day before, and the 21-year-old pop star couldn’t hide her heartache. She apologized and asked the audience to help her make it through the night.
“Your responsibility is to get me through, I think, the hardest day of my entire life,” she said to a crowd that answered her plea in the form of deafening screams.
On with the show. Sort of. Sadness hung in the air even as Cyrus tried to shoo it away with heavy doses of swagger: “Can’t Be Tamed,” “Do My Thang,” “FU.” This tour also runs on shock value, and there were plenty of antics to make a concerned mother clutch her pearls, including Miley simulating oral sex on someone dressed as Abraham Lincoln and a video of her writhing while wrapped in bondage. Kids – they grow up so fast these days.
The excess was in line with Cyrus’s latest album, “Bangerz,” but it also obscured the simple fact that she’s a competent singer who could occasionally make more with less spectacle. An acoustic set, on a makeshift stage erected at the back of the Garden, proved especially tough for Cyrus, with songs by Bob Dylan (“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”), Lana Del Rey (“Summertime Sadness”), and Coldplay (“The Scientist”) tugging at her heartstrings as the camera captured tears rolling down her cheeks.
She saved the best for last, hitting hard with her three biggest hits. “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” doubled as thunderous singalongs, but “Party in the U.S.A.” felt out of sync on such a somber night. It was a poignant reminder that entertainers have feelings, too, no matter how indestructible they claim to be.James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.