Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran Toyota Center May 16, 2013
There was a moment about a minute and a half or so into Thursday night's concert where Taylor Swift stopped, looked straight into one of the many cameras filming her show, and smiled. The crowd roared as if they had seen a miracle. It was the type of loud that you're not sure is entirely possible.
And that was just for a smile.
The night would go on, hit songs would be played, words would be said, and confetti would fly, but in that one euphoric moment none of that mattered. Taylor Swift was there, in person, and she was happy. And so the crowd was happy.
Moments like that make it really hard to focus on the music.
This is unfortunate, because what gets lost in the world of tabloid gossip, funny memes, and the fact that a lot of the time it's just more interesting to talk about Swift rather than her music is the fact that she is a talented songwriter.
Other than to talk about testing the waters of dubstep on "I Knew You Were Trouble" (the live version features an even bigger dubstep breakdown that still doesn't exactly work) not a lot has been said about the songwriting of her most recent album Red, which made up the bulk of the songs of the show.
The songs of Red are, much like her stage show, perhaps a bit too glossy. Swift doesn't write songs that really lend themselves to big stage spectacle -- "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" excluded, because it's got that massive pop hook -- so at times the stage show felt a bit forced. Not bad or unimpressive, because it was nice to look at and clearly they spent money on the show, but the strength of the songs and the talent of the musicians playing them would have been enough to carry the show.
The show was its best when it got down to basics, with Swift at her acoustic guitar or at a piano. A prime example of this was her performance of "All Too Well," which featured her at the piano with simple staging. There was a moment as the song hit it's peak where she paused to wipe tears away from her eyes and in that moment I was completely hooked, thinking to myself, "Wow, this song is amazing."
This is weird, because five hours earlier I listened to the song in my office and thought it was mad corny.
Now sure, we could get into the cynical runaround about how she's playing a character and the tears were probably manufactured, but what really stood out about the show is how, for the most part, genuine Swift comes off. With the exception of some disingenuous-sounding banter about bullies to set up "Mean," most of her speeches to the crowd came off as a glimpse into who she might actually be as a person. Sure, they're all well-rehearsed -- they all end with the title of the song she's about to play, after all -- but maybe there's some real truth to them.
Not that it matters. Hardcore Swift fans -- the type who spent the night before making signs out of Christmas lights -- were going to eat up everything she had to say anyway, and haters gonna hate.
So here we are again, talking about Taylor Swift the person, and not Taylor Swift the artist. Funnily enough, Swift is self-aware enough to figure out a way to tie the person to the art, embracing both through a simple statement at the start of the show.
"It looks like 12,000 of you have opted in to listen to me sing about my feelings for the next two hours," Swift said, acknowledging the fact that a lot of people call her out for the types of songs she writes. The crowd, as you might have guessed, roared.
I didn't scream, but by the time the show was over I was glad I opted in.
Personal Bias: I've always found Swift kind of boring as a country songwriter, so I'm glad she's embraced the pop side of her sound. However, since this is the bias section, in the spirit of honesty I'll mention that I'm a Kanye West fan.
The Crowd: Lots of females of all ages, dressed casual-Friday style (comfy but not trashy) if they weren't in some coordinated, homemade light-up outfit with five of their friends. The males in the crowd were split between those who spent the entire show on their phones and the guys rocking their own homemade Swift shirts.
Overheard In the Crowd (Taylor Swift Edition): "Look! There's a picture of Taylor! In a purple dress!" Little kids are easily impressed.
Random Notebook Dump: I hope Kanye's new single doesn't leak while I'm at this show.
So, How Was the Opener?: Although his tracks have never grabbed me when I've heard them on the radio, I found a lot to like about Ed Sheeran live. Maybe I'm just biased because of my love of the "one man, one guitar, loop pedals" set up, but I thought his set was mighty impressive. I'd like to see him again, preferably somewhere where there isn't a constant hum of chatter and teen screaming in the background, but those days are probably already behind him.
Overheard In the Crowd (Ed Sheeran Edition): "That man is perfection. You don't even know. Holy shit."
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