"We have a lot in common, you and I", Taylor Swift claimed before launching into"Mean" on her banjo and following it with "Stay Stay Stay". Perhaps we do, perhaps loving Taylor is an ageless grace in which the daydreamers of the world, and especially the younger female members, join her in a land of love and denial, jealousy, desire and deliverance. Welcome to a Taylor Swift concert.
The Red tour reached the Prudential Center Wednesday night and was immediately the Arena rock concert to beat. After six years of an extended High School Senior Year, the 23 year old superstar is all grown up and she acts grown though but only to the degree where the grown up fails to speak now to the daydreaming girls who make up the majority of her audience. Then she is the 16 year old girl we met all those years ago with tears on her guitar.And it was her job on the current tour to find where the two met. It is a more treacherous game than dumping boy band English pop stars though perhaps not as tough as maintaining your concentration through a fourth album. And at Taylor Swift's eagerly anticipated early tour set in New Jersey, she performed the balancing act with such skill, the two hour performance became a masterclass on how to conduct your business the right way.
Here are some tricks of the trade, which are like the equivalent of always running to first base though artists from Bruce to Bieber to Madonna seem unable or uncompelled to do so.
1. Have your opening act come on stage early.
2. Then instead of messing around till 9pm, or, in the case of Lady Gaga at the same venue, 10pm, or Madonna 11pm, go on stage at 830pm.
3. Play two hours straight, don’t bother with an encore, and make sure your fans are out in plenty of time to catch the 11pm train to New York Penn Station.
It might seem to be a small thing, such attention to detail so your young audience can make the most of concert experience, but it isn’t. It is largesse, it is good manners. It makes a big difference. When I saw Gaga I had to catch the same train going back to the city and missed half the show.
But it is still just the icing on the cake as Taylor Swift moved through a flawless performance. Every song a perfect jewel, the theatrical performances, remember the wedding in “Speak Now”, kept to a minimum, the piano segment two songs, one, “All Too Well” a passionate recherchez to a lost, a set highlight, the acoustic segment a complete success.
And while she often falls into girlish banter when speaking to the girls in the audience, the revelations when they do arriv are all about craft, about how she does it and why. Taylor calls her songwriting “a coping mechanism” and for a woman who writes in some detail about “her feelings”, it seems like a claim that the method is the message.
This is not the best time I’ve seen Taylor on stage, but it is the best set she has performed and not only because Red is her best album. Fearless and Speak Now peak higher but they are nowhere near as consistent. There isn’t much of a dud on Red. “State Of Grace” is a young adult romantic masterpiece and with a full on rock band (two guitars!) behind her, Taylor smashes through it to start the evening. It is the sort of song one of those indie bands much cooler than her might play only Taylor's song is better. In the Taylor story, the song isn’t just a magical thumper (the acoustic version works equally well) but it is also a post teen Taylor. The puppy love innocence of “Our Song” is long gone and the travails of teen romance, the “this love is difficult but it is real” is steamed over in sexual passion.
So Taylor starts at the top of her game in a bright, changing, darkening and lightening glare of red lights. The first three songs, while sung along to with alacrity by the teenage girl audience, are the older 22 (er 23) year old Taylor. When she reaches back for her fourth song to “You Belong With Me” gone are the cheerleader outfits and instead the song is rearranged so it mimics the girl group sound of the 1960s,
The first major set piece has Taylor as a Hollywood star being harassed by journalists and paparazzi for “The Lucky One” and it is the only shrugger of the evening. In 2013, the complaints I had about her singing being wobbly in 2009 no longer apply, with no backing tracks that I can hear ,she nailed every song. But in 2013, she still can’t dance and the set pieces are the weak link here. At least she had “Love Story” to act out in 2009. None of the big production numbers except for the last song circus MC “We Are Never Ever Getting Back” were really needed. “22", as fun a song as you ever want to hear didn’t NEED 10 dancers selling the point to us.
Musically, Taylor is on a mission that included playing electric and acoustic guitar, drums, banjo and piano and only the piano specifically well. She claims to have learnt how to play guitar on a 12 string which would be more believable if there hadn’t been film of her opening a Christmas gift of a six string at the age of nine. Her singing is better than it has ever been, even if a little nondescript, there is a sweetness to her voice and it is right for her songs. And her songs can withstand just about anything. Both the Fearless and Speak Now sets meandered here and there, but Wednesday night everything is full ahead and the songs are given lovely, lively passionate takes.
Some more nitpicking? Here is some more. The fans getto choose a song at every stop and for some insane reason chose “Starlight”. “Starlight”??? All we get is the one, and we chose one from an album she won't stop playing. How about “Forever and Always”? Cmon, Jersey, is that all you’ve got. The one opportunity to hear “Mine” and we blew it.
But is that the worst you can say? Yeah, more or less. Taylor gave her fans a superbly crafted set. A just about perfect two hours of pop rock with a good band and a minimum of acoustic hi-jinx. She treated her young fans with all the love and respect they deserved while, impossible to overstate this, streamlining the Speak Now esthetics to a fine point, a study in a simple design well executed and the least indulgent, most creative arena rock show anywhere. Everything improved here, “Mean” was perfect, and the extremely accurate warning that there will be bullies throughout all of our lives just made it better, “Love Story” remains possibly the greatest song of the 21st Century, and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is one of the best songs she’s ever written.
And the fans were adorable, dressed up like Taylor’s from her various videos with huge self made signs and glitter in their eyes. Some as young as 8 or 9, mostly teens who probably were 8 and 9 when they first heard of her. What a wonderful place to be, these young girls traveling into adulthood with these great songs about the social conditions they live in to light their way. “Ever”, “Love Story”, “Mean”, “Our Song” –this music will last and last and last. They will never look back with embarrassment. Like the Beatles teenage girl fans before them, these are songs they will carry with them all their lives.
And as for Taylor, I guess she did it, she went from teen sensation to 20 something serial monogamist and she did it with apparent ease and while selling more albums, more tickets, making new fans and maintaining her old ones. Except for her fan club fiasco where they threw away 100s of unopened mail, she doesn’t have a serious blemish on her career and with this tour she has proven once again that it is Taylor’s world we just live in it. And that world is RED!
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – June 1975 (Volume 7, Number 1)
Smith’s final freelance contribution to Creem.
putting Nigeria on the map
back at # 1 for a third non consecutive week
not a dreamer but a steely eyed businessman and pop musician
Willie Nelson will play at the Palomino fest on Saturday
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – May 1975 (Volume 6, Number 12
Elton John came across as completely engaging
by episode nine, season four, the bastards finally got me sick of Kate!
some hooky and wildly inspired tune
Harry has the summer of his career!