At the Rogers Centre in Toronto on Friday
Usually in a stadium show, the big video are little more than a visual aid, so the people up in the nosebleed seats can figure out which of the ants on stage is the singer. But in Taylor Swift’s Red Tour, the video screens were the heart of the show – so much so that there were times when it seemed like the action onstage was more background than foreground.
The show started traditionally enough, with Swift singing State of Grace from behind a big red curtain, with a spotlight turning her shadow into a two-storey silhouette. But once the curtain went up, the video took over. Swift sang staring straight into the camera, and her dance moves were as perfectly framed as on a music video. It was almost as if we were watching the television edit of the performance in front of us.
Given that there were nearly 45,000 fans packed into the Rogers Centre to see Swift, this emphasis on the video component made a certain amount of sense. It made our experience of Swift seem intimate despite the distance, and allowed her to maintain an aura of every-girl charm in the midst of a stadium-sized extravaganza.
And believe me, there was no stinting on the spectacle. We got fireworks at the end of State of Grace ; a Stomp-style percussion interlude, complete with flying drummers, in Holy Ground; a video intro for The Lucky One shot to look like a ‘30s melodrama; and a massive, circus-themed blowout for the show-closing rendition of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together .
When it comes to stagecraft, Swift could clearly show Madonna a thing or two about blonde ambition.
What was most striking about the show wasn’t the visual dazzle, though, but the musical breadth. Swift’s Speak Now tour, two years ago, put to rest any residual notions of her being a country singer; with Red, she’s staking a claim for the pop mainstream that’s as strong as anything Katie Perry or Christina Aguilera have managed.
It helps that her band is versatile enough to handle pretty much anything she asks of them. The U2-derived thrum of State of Grace was every bit as convincing as the banjo-spiked Mean, while You Belong with Me was somehow remade into an ersatz Motown number. And when they got to the final choruses of I Knew You Were Trouble, between the club-style bass and the intricate choreography it could almost have passed for a Britney Spears performance – except, of course, that there was actual singing involved.
Still, as Swift herself reminded us early on, her songs are about emotions, not production tricks, and the best parts of the show were those in which she emphasized that aspect of the music. It was nice to hear her offer a solo acoustic rendition of her very first single, Tim McGraw , and her duet with Ed Sheeran, Everything Has Changed , was charmingly affectionate.
But the show’s most stunning moment was one of silence. Swift was in the middle of a break-up song called All Too Well , and after she sang the line, “…and I walk home alone,” she simply stopped. On the video screen, the pain of that memory was written across her face. Those 45,000 fans went so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and in that instant Swift probably created more memories than with any of the fireworks that followed.
Taylor Swift performs again at the Rogers Centre on Saturday, June 15; in Winnepeg on Saturday, June 22, and in Vancouver on Saturday, June 29.
- State of Grace
- Holy Ground
- You Belong with Me
- The Lucky One
- Stay Stay Stay (with an interpolation of Ho Hey)
- Tim McGraw
- Everything Has Changed
- Begin Again
- Sparks Fly
- I Knew You Were Trouble
- All Too Well
- Love Story
- Treacherous We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together