I had the pleasure of attending Taylor Swift’s sold out concert at the Staples Center on August 24. Some people are befuddled as to how this girl, who isn’t scandalous or scantily clad, could manage to sell out such a massive venue (four nights in a row, thank you very much). The answer can be answered in one word: quality.
It was clear from the moment fans stepped into the venue that the experience (and show) was going to be top quality, something especially impressive considering the top ticket price was $79.50, which is peanuts in comparison to most A-level tours. Immediately upon entering Stapes two things became very clear: Cover Girl was sponsoring this tour and girlfriend was selling a lot of merch. The merch was, for the most part, well thought out and under $30 (an ill-conceived $50 blanket being the exception). Fans had options ranging from tees (mostly $25) and glowsticks ($5) to her American Greeting Cards (lucky number 13 for $20) and, best of all, autographed CDs ($20). It’s no wonder T-Swizzle is still selling 13,000 copies a week of Speak Now.
And the product paled in comparison to the actual show. Swift’s primary openers, Needtobreathe, was an excellent choice. Unheard of by most of her fans until this tour, they clearly have a lot to gain from the exposure and certainly weren’t wasting the opportunity. The boys, with a country tinged, gospel rock sound reminiscent of a more catchy Kings of Leon, put on an energetic show that engaged the crowd and, during the last song, made fun use of a handheld spotlight. Their performance was very different from what Swift would later deliver, but was exciting nonetheless.
By the time Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” began blaring through the loudspeakers, fans were primed and ready to go. The stage was covered with a massive red, theatrical curtain that was pulled back just in time for Swift to pop up from the floor amid swirls of golden smoke and head right into “Sparks Fly,” a fan favorite. Each of Swift’s songs is written like a mini-vignette about her life and those stories were perfectly brought to life onstage, whether it was through the down-home country front porch for “Our Song,” the snow and white baby grand piano for “Back to December” or the flying balcony in the concert finale “Love Story.” With each song Swift made fans feel that they were immersed in the experience.
Standouts for me were the incredibly emotional “Dear John,” complete with fireworks during the bridge, a Swift-played banjo instrumental interlude before “Our Song,” the triumphant nature of “Long Live,” and the incredible lyrical prowess in “Fifteen.” As a fun bonus, Swift also performs a couple of “local” songs in every city. We got fun Beach Boys and Gwen Stefani covers. We also got Jason Mraz. Certainly Swift’s Los Angeles concerts were more star-studded than most. Over the course of four shows Justin Bieber, Jason Mraz, Hot Chelle Rae, Ellen Degeneres and Nicki Minaj all made surprise on-stage appearances (and forget about the star power in the crowd – Hello Taylor Lautner!). I can only speak to Mraz. Swift normally mixes her own “Fearless” with “I’m Yours” on the ukulele and having Mraz there in person, with his incredible voice and funky attitude, was a nice bonus.
As thrilling as the entire experience was, it wasn’t perfect. Swift still plays to the crowd a bit too much, encouraging applause for the sake of applause and acting shocked when she gets it. It was cute it the beginning of her first tour, but at this point it’s just awkward for her to act shocked that, having four sold out shows, people are excited to be there. I was also a bit bothered by both “Enchanted” and “Love Story.” “Enchanted” is one of my favorite tracks on Speak Now but for some reason it seemed to fall flat in concert. Swift put more emphasis on the ballad part of the song as opposed to the natural pop hook, a musical arrangement I think was a mistake. “Love Story” was also problematic. While the gag of sailing through the air in a balcony was cool, allowing Swift to get up close and personal with almost the entire arena, it’s a bit of an energy sapper if she’s not in your area and so not exactly the energetic high note I’d hoped she would go out on.
These, obviously, are small qualms and the Speak Now World Tour is a perfect example of a great artist marrying her music with compelling onstage storytelling and caring about the fans enough to create a great experience well worth the price of admission.
Show: Taylor Swift’s Speak Now World Tour
Rating: 9.0 out of 10
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