Swift’s extravaganza started right after opener Ed Sheeran stopped “just” singing and playing guitar (and, as an aside, Sheeran more than held his own with his haunting version of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and his crowd-pleaser “The A Team”).
Clips of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from Swift’s videos flashed on the giant screens, and right before Swift made her dramatic entrance, her “fan cam” swept the arena, checking out the hundreds of lighted or painted signs depicting “13” (she says it’s her lucky number), the word “Red,” or other Taylor-themed messages, to Icona Pop’s throbbing ditty, “I Love It.”
From the moment Swift began belting out the vocally demanding “State of Grace,” one of 12 from the 17-song set list that came from the new album, “Red,” Swift put the crowd on notice that she’s making the transition from girl next door to coolly calculating commercial artist.
Or is she? Based solely on the fabulously over-the-top production, it would seem that way.
Let’s start with the seven musicians, four back-up singers and about a dozen dancers, all of whom managed with Swift to seamlessly negotiate no fewer than 10 separate stage segments spread around the arena, including one enormous section that lifted off the main stage, a drop floor, a moving staircase and a runway stage that not only lifted and turned, but also led to a rotating and rising stage at the end so the back of the venue could get some Taylor love. There was even a floating stage that at one point carried Swift through the air by crane.
In addition, because the singer-songwriter is such a storyteller – as she put it, “I write lots of songs about my feelings” – most tunes were delivered with unique choreography, and at least 15 costumes changes. “The Lucky One” was offered as an old-timey starlet and her would-be lovers being chased by the paparazzi, while “I Knew You Were Trouble” came off as a Goth-Lite masquerade ball. “Love Story” found all of the dancers leaping out of a life-size music box, with Swift as the barefoot ballerina revealed at the end. Her wonderful country-pop hit “You Belong with Me,” one of the few numbers that fell flat, had been reworked as if for an early Sixties girl group.
Her last song — not an encore, because she finished and then left with a flourish – was worthy of being called a “finale.” As she encouraged the crowd to join in during “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Swift, dressed in a flashy circus ringleader costume, paraded around the various stages with her troupe dressed as clowns and stilt-walkers while the air filled with confetti and paper hearts.
But is the 23-year-old really done being our buddy yet? Even Swift didn’t seem totally convinced, despite her not-quite-spontaneous speeches about dreams and feelings. The boisterous “Mean” found her and her banjo poised, but she still relies on languorous looks and awkward camera-ready poses to stand in for confidence, and her dance moves aren’t the most sophisticated.
In fact, among the rare times the numbers weren’t big stage pieces: When Sheeran came back to do his song with Swift, “Everything Has Changed,” right after the only thing that felt unscripted the whole night, when Swift said a young lady during the pre-show meet-and-greet had asked for “Enchanted,” which Swift delivered sweetly and austerely, just her and a guitar.
Which was perfect, because it’s the down-to-earth Taylor Swift that most of the little girls and tweens (and their moms) with their homemade signs had come to cheer.
State of Grace
You Belong with Me
The Lucky One
Stay Stay Stay
Everything Has Changed (featuring Ed Sheeran)
I Knew You Were Trouble
All Too Well
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Kyle Wagner is a regular contributor to Reverb and travel editor at The Denver Post.
John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.