Thursday, 29 November 2007

Hannah Montana, Greensboro

Last week was the Thanksgiving break here, a fine American tradition, and an enjoyable few days off work for me and off school for the kids. We capped our break off on Sunday by going to Greensboro, about an hour and half's drive west of here, to see a show in Hannah Montana / Miley Cyrus's "Best of Both Worlds" Tour. It was an enormously enjoyable experience. I have been to many concerts over the years, but this was the kids' first big concert other than the outdoor "Party in the Park" in Birmingham in 2005. The big spectacle, the lavish production, the family audience reminded me a bit of my first concert, when I went to see Abba at Wembley Arena with my Dad in 1979.

If you have not heard of Hannah Montana, she is a 14 year old TV pop star, loved by kids of about 7-12 years old, especially girls, who made up about 80% of the audience on Sunday. Hannah Montana is actually the name of the Disney Channel TV show in which she appears. The central character is played by Miley Cyrus and the show's premise is simple. By day, she is an ordinary girl named Miley Stewart. But she has a secret life as a pop star named Hannah Montana, with a blond wig. The show has been running for a couple of years now and is massively popular. And Miley Cyrus, the daughter of country legend Billy Ray Cyrus, who also appears in the TV series as her father, has become a real life pop star. When she announced her recent concert tour of America, tickets sold out immediately. They could have filled every one of the huge venues several times over. Apparently tickets were selling for thousands of dollars.

The theme of the concert tour is "The Best of Both Worlds", a phrase taken from the theme tune to the programme. For the first half of the concert, she appears in character, blond wig and all, as Hannah Montana, singing Hannah's songs. For the second half, she re-emerges "as herself", Miley Cyrus, without the wig, singing a slightly different bunch of songs.

We arrived in Greensboro absurdly early, something like 2pm for a concert due to begin at 4. But I'd much rather be early than late, and it added to the excitement to be sitting in place and watching the coliseum fill up. We had a pretty good view, on a balcony to the side. The Jonas Brothers were the support act, and there were many at the gig who were clearly pretty obsessed by them, including the two girls sitting next to me, whose screams were ear-splitting. The Jonas Brothers are three young pretty boys who sing acceptable, hummable American pop including covers of songs like "Kids of America", now adjusted to "Kids of the Future". They performed for 30 minutes or so and as they left the stage, Miley Cyrus appeared on screen to announce that she would be on after twenty minutes.

I was very impressed by how polished her performance was. Her voice is strong -- it rarely seemed to falter. The concert was definitely something of a show, with lights, screens, dancers, and multiple costume changes. I'm so used to going to small-venue gigs by indie type bands that one forgets the pleasures of the big spectacle concert, and the money that is thrown at it. Hannah Montana descended to the stage in a large cube, her figure in silhouette, and then she emerged singing "Rock Star", the first of seven or so songs in the Hannah Montana half of the set. The last song in this set saw the return of the Jonas Brothers, to the delight of my screeching neighbours, who continued with two further songs while Hannah was transformed into Miley. None of us saw where she came from when she returned, but we think she must have come up through the square door in the walkway in front of the stage. She then performed another six or seven songs as Miley, again with more costume changes. After leaving the stage, she re-emerged for one last solo song with a guitar on a stool, all about how she misses her Grandpa, over sentimental but quite sweet.

It was a remarkably accomplished, polished performance overall from such a young person. Viola and I found ourselves repeating, "She's only fourteen!" I suppose that brings with it the concern that she doesn't go the way of other child or teen stars, but she seems to be very well managed and at this point seems remarkably well adjusted.

The picture at the top of this post was taken by Viola, and it's the rest of us sitting in Greensboro Coliseum a good hour or so before the thing started, enjoying our chips. Although recording devices were banned at the concert, some people appear to have gathered some very good bits of bootleg footage. Here's a minute or so from the first part of the concert, when she is still Hannah, and has just changed from a glitzy costume to put on her "old blue jeans".

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