Best fan sign at last night’s Taylor Swift show in Newark, New Jersey: “I Newark Were Trouble.” Second best: “Don’t Listen to Poehler & Fay [sic], You’re Great in Every Way!” Bonus points to the two girls shaking booty outside the venue, hoping for tickets, waving giant cardboard 2’s (because they’re feelin’ 22) and wearing homemade “Not a Lot Going On at the Moment” T-shirts, dancing around the parking lot to a boombox blasting Red. I hope they got in. Because what a massively excellent show.
Seeing Taylor Swift live in 2013 is seeing a maestro at the top of her or anyone’s game. No other pop auteur can touch her right now for emotional excess or musical reach – her punk is so punk, her disco is so disco. The red sequins on her guitar match the ones on her microphone, her shoes and 80 percent of the crowd. Her set is mostly new songs from Red, the slickest, smartest and just plain best mega-pop statement of our time. She’s a master of every rock-star move, except the one about dialing it down a notch. But who would ever want that? (Besides the whiny exes she keeps writing songs about?) “Hi, I’m Taylor,” she said by way of an introduction. “I write songs about my feelings. I’m told I have a lot of feelings.” You are told this accurately, Taylor.
Nobody can touch her for fan hysteria, either – when Taylor announced, “Thirteen thousand of you opted into hearing about my feelings for the next two hours!,” she set off the loudest screaming I’ve heard since the last time I saw her, at the end of her 2011 tour, reaching ungodly levels of girl-shriek saturation. The audience is part of the show, with their homemade red costumes, placards, Lite Brite codes and more glowsticks than an Inspiral Carpets reunion. For most of them, Taylor is the first girl they’ve seen play a guitar, a signifier that cannot be denied. When she said, “I look into this audience and I see a lot of creativity,” it got one of the loudest cheers of the night. She also explained to the younger fans what a 12-string guitar is. “It has twice as many strings as a regular guitar. So that’s your math for the night.” Educational!
On her last tour, she took the stage to Tom Petty‘s “American Girl”; this time it was Lenny Kravitz’s version of “American Woman,” a neat contrast. Right before she went on, her mom was escorted down the aisle near my section, causing a major fan commotion. (I haven’t seen so much love for a rock parent since Springsteen brought his mama onstage for “Dancing in the Dark.”) But the coolest pre-show moment was seeing the crowd go ballistic for Icona Pop’s hipster-disco club hit “I Love It.” If you wondered how it would sound to hear several thousand tweens chant “You’re from the Seventies, but I’m a Nineties bitch,” now you know. Nineties bitches, consider yourselves warned.
Once the lights went out, the screaming never flagged, and neither did the star. Taylor came out belting “State of Grace” in the same kind of black hat the Edge wore on the Joshua Tree tour (which makes sense, since Bono also had a red guitar). For “Holy Ground” she banged the drum solo on a giant glowing cylinder (“She’s rocking out!” the little kid behind me informed her mom. “She’s rocking ooouuut!”) “Mean” began with a rustic interlude, just Tay plucking her banjo center stage, and Ed Sheeran held his own in “Everything Has Changed,” while “22” got a breakdance and a snippet of the “Paid in Full” beat until everyone felt so 22 it hurt.
But the best moment was the double-shot of “I Knew You Were Trouble” into “All Too Well.” She turned “Trouble” into a blast of razzle-dazzle choreography in fancy-dress masquerade-ball mode. Then she sat alone to play “All Too Well,” her most majestic ballad, just a girl and her piano and several thousand other girls singing along. It was the highlight of a show that was nothing but highlights.
Seeing Taylor onstage now is just like seeing Morrissey in 1992 – that same level of total commitment, total fan fervor, total connection between audience and performer. I’ve compared Taylor to Morrissey many times, but no other performer really hits that same pitch of happy/free/confused/lonely hormonal anguish with so much wit and empathy. Moz sang “the sun shines out of our behinds,” Tay sings “people throw rocks at things that shine,” but they’re coming from the same place. (People said lovin’ you was red, and they were half right.) They share the conviction that their moods are the universe and
expressing them is the reason the universe exists. This is a useful conviction for a singer to have, even if it’s more dangerous for the rest of us. But Taylor wears it like a true arena-rock goddess at an amazing peak.
“State of Grace”
“You Belong With Me”
“The Lucky One”
“Stay Stay Stay”
“Everything Has Changed”
“I Knew You Were Trouble”
“All Too Well”
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”