Tim Finn Review: Taylor Swift

Photo by Abigail Andrews

Let’s start with some numbers, which explain a lot, but barely convey why this concert and this tour are unlike any live-music experience ever.

Friday night’s show at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium lasted nearly 3 hours and 45 minutes; the setlist comprised 45 songs, not including a star-studded video premiere that will separate this show from all others on the tour; many of the ticket prices breached the four-figure threshold; and the beyond-spectacular-and-extravagant audio and video production, according to one estimate, required 90 semi-trailers to transport its freight, and cost approximately $100 million.

The Eras Tour is Taylor Swift’s homage to a career approaching the end of its second decade. Her discography comprises 10 studio albums plus three “Taylor versions” – re-recorded albums, including Speak Now, which celebrated its release on Friday. A career-appreciation tour might seem a bit premature for an artist still in her early 30s, but she has the catalog and the hits (more than 40 Top Tens) to justify it.

More than that, she has the talent, the personality, the ambition, and the stamina – good lord, the stamina – to showcase that career in a tour that exceeds all others historically when it comes to sheer spectacle.

Musically, it was just as impressive: euphoric, chaotic, manic, melancholic. And it plumbed all emotions. Tears were spilled all night, prompted either by overwhelming joy over just being there or by her specialty: lyrics rife with details that are both personal and universal and that connect to several generations of fans.

Five years had passed since her previous tour, a delay extended by the pandemic. Those five years felt like decades to her diehards, who rejoiced when news of The Era Tour broke. Ticket prices prompted anger and outrage, directed at all parties involved (Swift but mostly Ticketmaster and Live Nation). But once the tour hit the road, all that subsided as the scope of the shows was unveiled.

She could have returned to the road more modestly, delivering what she had in previous tours, which brimmed with energy and spectacle. But plateaus aren’t Taylor Swift’s natural habitat, and inertia is not within her personae. Up and beyond are her only directions, and to ascend one must keep climbing. So when time came to imagine a return to the road after a five-year absence, she, naturally, went with: Let’s create something no one has ever seen, even music fans who think they’ve seen it all. Mission accomplished.

The show was organized into nine chapters, each representing one of her 10 studio albums (all but her debut), plus a surprise set. The presentation was not chronological, for a reason, it seems: to avoid a back-to-back repetition of dynamics and moods. So the sets shuffled among lively disco/dance parties on Reputation, Midnight and 1989, to the more country-adjacent vibe of Fearless and the more contemplative albums like Folklore and Evermore. It was a wise approach.

After an intro that included a bit of Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me, Swift appeared on a stage that nearly defies description: a massive catwalk that nearly traversed the length of the field; and a video screen that spanned the width of the stage and towered over everything below. The images it broadcast were pinpoint clear and huge. Even from the back of the first level, across the field from the stage, it was like sitting on your couch watching a big-screen television 10 feet away.

The moment she appeared on stage and on that screen, the place detonated into the kind of roar that has quaked this stadium many times over the past five years. It wasn’t peals of shrieks and squeals, though; it was more an ecstatic ovation, the kind mega-congregations unleash upon their spiritual gurus at a Sunday service.

Swift feigned surprise, as if the response were unexpected, then she and her band and dancers dashed into Miss America & The Heartbreak Prince from the Lover album, breaking the seal on a show that began about 45 minutes before sunset and would last until nearly midnight.

There was so much to see and hear and process at once that the onslaught was overwhelming, like trying to sip water out of a gushing firehose. Let’s start with the wardrobe changes, though not too specifically. If the designers of her gowns, costumes and footwear interest you – I learned about Christian Louboutins this evening – Google away. Photos abound. Between Swift and her dancers, there were dozens of changes: outlandish gowns, dresses, bodysuits, stiletto heels, and thigh-high boots.

The stage sets were even more impressive, none more than the moss-veiled cabin that was the centerpiece of the Evermore chapter, the show’s centerpiece, if there is one. And on a night when she seemed to control everything, including meteorology (it didn’t rain and the weather was blissfully pleasant) her effects crew was able to simulate falling snow and blossoming trees and detonate a spectacular confetti blizzard.

Among the highlights: the 10-minute version of All Too Well – which prompted the longest stadium sing-along I’ve ever heard — and We Are Never Getting Back Together from Red; The 1 and Cardigan from Folklore; and You Belong With Me from Fearless.

She promised some surprises, and she delivered them late in the show. Before the two-song “surprise set,” she announced the world premiere of the music video to I Can See You, a track on Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). As the video rolled, Swift took a seat on the stage, cross-legged, her back to the crowd, and watched along with the 65,000-plus.

After the video ended, she delivered another surprise, summoning the three cast members out for a bow: Presley Cash, Joey King (both of whom co-starred in her 2010 Mean video) and – brace yourself for the peals of squeals – heartthrob Taylor Lautner, a Swift-ex and star of The Twilight Saga film series. He would cartwheel and back-flip his way down the runway to greet Swift and profess his eternal respect for her. Then the four group-hugged and the three departed the stage, leaving Swift and her congregation to catch their breaths.

How do you follow up that? With a “surprise set” that included the live debut of When Emma Falls in Love, another Speak Now track that immediately trended an online buzz about whether it was a friendship ode to Emma Stone.

That led into another interlude and then the final Eras chapter: Midnights, the recording she released in October. Despite the album’s recency, everyone seemed very familiar with it, and the word-for-word sing-alongs, which never subsided, continued. As the show ended in a blitzkrieg of fireworks and confetti, the enormous crowd reacted with a mix of dazed amazement and a touch of sadness: The long, spectacular evening was over.

I’ve been asked several times: Why is she so popular? For more than 15 years, Taylor Swift has sustained a connection to her fans that, somehow, remains personal and devout, no matter how far and high she skyrockets as a pop-culture megastar. Within a 3-minute pop song, she can connect lyrically with, say, a middle-schooler in the throes of puppy love, a high schooler going through a first breakup and an adult in their 30s going through a trauma like divorce.

She has chronicled for all of them what it’s like for someone like her to grow up and endure the usual tribulations of adolescence and beyond, in songs and lyrics that resonate indelibly. In the process she has established an enduring intimacy with them that has made her a celebrity with a vast, monolithic following, a rarity in a culture that is now more diverse than ever and dispersed into a thousand different clans.

So where does she go from here? How does she exceed what appears to be insurmountable? Short of a residency in a biodome on the surface of Mars, it seems as if she has conquered a summit with no further beyond. Then again, five years ago, few people could have imagined something like The Eras Tour was possible. I suspect that in her rare moments of down time, she’s already considering her next big move.


Lover: Miss America & The Heartbreak Prince; Cruel Summer; The Man; You Need to Calm Down; Lover; The Archer. Fearless: Fearless; You Belong With Me; Love Story. Evermore: ‘Tis the Damn Season; Willow; Marjorie; Champagne Problems; Tolerate It. Reputation: … Ready For It?; Delicate; Don’t Blame Me; Look What You Made Me Do, Speak Now: Enchanted; Long Live. Red: Intro; 22; We Are Never Getting Back Together; I Knew You Were Trouble; All Too Well; Folklore: Seven; The 1; Betty; The Last Great American Dynasty; August; Illicit Affairs; My Tears Ricochet; Cardigan. 1989: Style; Blank Space; Shake It Off; Wildest Dreams; Bad Blood. Video premiere: I Can See You. Surprise songs: Never Grow Up; When Emma Falls in Love. Midnights: Lavender Haze; Anti-Hero; Midnight Rain; Vigilante Shift; Bejeweled; Mastermind; Karma.

No Comments Yet

Comments are closed