When the title of your album and tour is RED, it’s really hard to imagine a better place to hold your show than the home of a team called the New Jersey Devils. From the moment that CoolDaughters 1 & 2, CoolNiece, and I took our seats, a red glow draped us and everything we could see. The crowd was a sea of red clothing. It probably looked much like a typical Devils’ game, except that the crowd for this one was about 90% young women under the age of 20.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an arena show that wasn’t Bruce Springsteen, so I was actually looking forward to Taylor Swift. Though Bruce’s shows are almost as heavily scripted as Taylor’s, Bruce and the band (all 40 of them or something) pretty much just get up and play. For Taylor Swift, I was expecting spectacle and she didn’t disappoint. There’s also that satisfying thing of seeing your children’s faces light up with wild-eyed excitement that could’ve played into my enjoyment of the evening.
Country duo Florida Georgia Line opened the show. They lean toward the southern rock end of the country spectrum, and their single “Cruise” got a huge response from the crowd.
Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, whose face adorned a large, red backdrop during the entire pre-Taylor portion of the evening, followed. He played solo with just his acoustic guitar and a Boss Loop Station. He used the pedal to great effect, crafting backing guitar/vocal tracks on the spot to build up his sound. 2013 Song of the Year nominee “The A Team” closed the set to thunderous applause. Leading up to that, Sheeran shined on some of his lesser-known work as well as a cover of Nina Simone’s “Be My Husband.”
Having Sheeran open provided the opportunity for Swift’s crew to assemble the set while hidden behind the curtain that bore Sheeran’s face. That curtain was removed to reveal a plain, bright red scrim. We waited. The lights went out and the audience became a galaxy of LED-adorned banners, glowing letters spelling out TAYLOR and RED, glow sticks, and cell phone screens.
Swift went for the giant silhouette behind the red scrim effect to open the show with “State of Grace.” The curtain dropped to reveal Swift atop a red flight of stairs in front of a huge, HD screen focused on her face. During pauses in the lyrics, her eyes darted from side to side surveying the crowd, a deep, red smirk on her face. By the time the song ended, Swift had made her way to the end of the runway that extended from the stage. She stood there “Swifting” — surveying the crowd with a look of disbelief that so many people would have come out to see her show — for a good two minutes. The crowd, my daughters and my niece included, ate it up.
Following her second song, “Holy Ground,” Swift went into the first of her between-song monologues. Several of these included praise for “Jersey” and “Jersey crowds,” that — even if they had a bit of an <insert city/state/venue name here> quality about them — had us all cheering, full of home-state pride. At first, I mentally contrasted these scripted moments with the “spontaneity” of Springsteen’s show; but just a moment of thought reminded me that his “Are we missing anybody?” speech and his beer-guzzling stage dive, for example, happened at every stop on his tour. Swift’s monologue served as a prelude to “Red,” which came complete with red, bedazzled Les Paul guitars and a few bars of The Lumineers’ mega-hit, “Ho Hey!”
Swift’s show ran like absolute clockwork. She had an army of dancers and singers in addition to her backing band. I counted nine costume changes. Accomplishing those changes sometimes involved Swift’s being sucked below stage by some mechanical magic. Speaking of mechanical effects, there were ramps and pieces of the stage that rose from the floor. There was a platform, suspended by wires over the crowd, that carried Swift from a small stage at the back of the arena back to the main stage.
With few exceptions, each song was an extravagant production number. “You Belong With Me” was reworked into a MoTown arrangement with Swift and her backing singers rising to the top of a platform that had been lowered to the stage as the song began. On “The Lucky One,” Swift played a hounded film star from cinema’s golden age. She donned a varsity jacket and was carried through the crowd to the “B” stage during “22.” She flew over the crowd on that suspended platform for “Sparks Fly.” She went from a prim and proper Victorian young woman to a bodice-wearing rocker on the Madonna-like performance of “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
In between “Sparks Fly” and “Trouble,” Swift again praised the Jersey crowd for our enthusiasm. She was so struck by it the night before, she said, that she had to reward us. She brought out Neon Trees’ Tyler Glenn, and they performed a duet of “Everybody Talks.”
The show’s final section included “Love Story,” its clockwork-like guitar riff translated into Swift and her dancers emerging from a giant music box, “Treacherous,” during which she walked an imaginary tightrope, and “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together,” with Swift dressed as some combination of Alice In Wonderland’s Red Queen and Mad Hatter.
The girls sang and screamed throughout. CoolDaughter #2 had to perform “Love Story” during her kindergarten class’s “Club K” musical extravaganza earlier this year, and it was clear that she remembers every bit of choreography. They twirled their glow sticks and waved their banners hoping to be some of the rumored lucky few who get to meet Taylor after the show.
I go to a lot of concerts, but this was a different thing. Calling the show a concert almost belittles it. Taylor Swift is one of the richest, most successful performers in pop music; and at its core, of course, the RED Tour is just another vehicle for making her richer and more successful. But the planning, the rehearsing, the work it must take to make a show come off like that is just astounding, almost flattering.
It cost me a lot more than a $10 cover and a few beers, but Taylor Swift did give us a spectacle. And she made my kids happy, so I’m not going to complain.
State of Grace
Red (“Ho Hey!” snippet)
You Belong with Me
The Lucky One
Stay Stay Stay
The Story of Us
Everything Has Changed (w/ Ed Sheeran)
Everybody Talks (w/ Tyler Glenn)
I Knew You Were Trouble
All Too Well
We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together