The Pepsi Center was a sparkly-and-shrieking cluster of girliness on Tuesday night. The three very young ladies in front of me were wearing tutus, and the two mom-fans behind me both had on well-worn Taylor Swift T-shirts from two records ago.
They were all there for the same reason: To celebrate their girl. And the 21-year-old pop star treated the sold-out Pepsi Center audience -– her third in less than two years -– to a set of hits that was proof of her massive, wide-ranging appeal and unflappable likability.
Swift threw out some heavies early on: “Sparks Fly,” “Mean” and an on-the-fly mash-up of her apologetic hit “Back to December” and OneRepublic’s “Apologize.” A woman of the people, Swift even got around in the crowd –- spending some time on a secondary stage near the soundboard for “Fearless.”
And “Fearless” encapsulated so much of what makes a Swift show special. The song featured only Swift’s voice and her ukulele, an instrument she bought in Hawaii, she said. And while the multi-instrumentalist isn’t known for complex compositions, she’s inspiring in the way she jumps from instrument to instrument.
“Back to December” was stunning and very sweet with Swift working a piano with casual ease. For other songs she donned a guitar. And early in the show, in a potent one-two punch that included “Our Song” and a particularly twanged-up “Mean,” Swift rocked a banjo as it was second nature.
Yet the show was hardly a sterling display of technicality. Swift and her band are solid players, but there were clearly a couple poorly synced moments, including a low point amid the alt-rock rager “Better Than Revenge.”
The show couldn’t have closed any stronger for Swift fans. A late-set take on her mega-hit “You Belong With Me” was the evening’s biggest singalong, and her letter to John Mayer, “Dear John,” was expectedly fiery, if a little drowsy. “Love Story” was an ideal pick for the encore, and her cover of the Fray’s “How to Save a Life” was a fitting tribute to the Mile High City.
Swift is still playing up the girl-next-door image. Still. But we’ll give her that. She’s the pop diva with a country past, and as she continues to reinvent herself over the next few years, we’ll surely start to see a different side of the hair-twirling, doe-eyed singer.
John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.