Thus, walking into Levi's stadium with my wife last Friday night to behold the reigning queen of the music scene, I really had no idea what to expect. I just knew that 50,000 people all paid over $100 a ticket (I'm sure there were tickets sold in the thousand-dollar range), so the pressure was on Taylor Swift to deliver. For the most part, she did not disappoint.
First, a word about Levi's. My sister and I are lifelong 49ers fans:
It's pretty ironic that my first visit to their new home (and our brick) was not to watch my team; on the other hand, I have a lot more love for Tay-Tay these days than Niners owner Jed York, who could be the topic of a much meaner blog entry. The stadium is completely generic. No character at all. Even the font on the concession stands is boring. It's a nightmare to get into and out of. Draught beer costs $11, and every swallow is slightly bitter because it helps to line Jed's pockets. But hey, it's nice and clean! For now.
We got to our seats and found translucent rubber bracelets taped to the back of them, like t-shirts at a Warriors' playoff game. We also encountered a precocious, blonde-braided nine-year-old in the row in front of us named Bailey. Bailey and her family had driven down from Williams, about three hours to the north. She was impressed that I had been to France, but one-upped me by having once traveled to Utah.
Bailey represents a fraction of the broad tapestry that is T-Swift fandom these days. In the row in front of her were a group of four 20-somethings chugging Coors Light and hugging often. On either side of us were middle-aged mothers with tween girls. Behind us were some mixed pairs in their 30s. Sure, the demo still skews about 80% female (which has its advantages: ZERO line for the men's restroom), but Swifties are legion in age and appearance.
Just as Bailey began to grow impatient (her bedtime was 9:00, and Swift's set didn't kick off until 8:45), the sounds of a subway station became audible, and soon Taylor emerged through the stage floor to the synth keys of "Welcome to New York," 1989's opening track, sporting her signature shades:
All those glowing white lights visible in the crowd are the bracelets, which lit up and pulsed with the beat. It's hard to overstate how cool this was. The wristbands changed color and varied not only by section but by seat, which delighted Bailey, who had scavenged an extra and had one on each wrist:
The effect was much like one of those card tricks that the crowd does at a football game halftime show, but for two straight hours. I'm old enough to remember when people still held up lighters, but this was way more fun (and certainly much better than holding up cell phones). On the subject of lighters, this was also the first concert I've ever been to where I never caught even a whiff of weed. We did see a particularly drunk lady get ejected; accounting for how long the concession lines were pre-show, that was actually a pretty impressive feat.
Taylor proceeded to run through a couple of the more upbeat 1989 tracks before mixing in a blistering version of "I Knew You Were Trouble," replete with smoke blasts on the chorus hooks:
There were frequent breaks between songs so she could change costumes, which is something else I'm unfamiliar with. Eddie Vedder shedding his flannel is about the closest comp. During these times, the video screens would display testimonials from Taylor's cadre of BFF's, such as Selena Gomez, Haim, Cara Delevingne, her cats, and Abigail Anderson, of "red-headed Abigail" fame on Swift's early hit, "Fifteen."
Speaking of older tunes, they were noticeably lacking. She played nearly every song off 1989, but perhaps only six or seven others. Even those were given a 1989 sound. There was nary a banjo to be heard on "Love Story," which was coated with an electronic, glossy sheen. For "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," Taylor channeled her inner Joan Jett, snarling her way through the tune while shredding on electric guitar:
I like 1989, but it's not my favorite Taylor album. As with any touring act, you know going in that the focus will mainly be on the newest album, but I gladly would've traded special guest Fifth Harmony's performance of "Worth It" for an old-fashioned rendition of "You Belong With Me." I loves me some Taylor ballads, and the only one she really did was the album's closer, "Clean."
There were also times when the energy in the building flagged a bit. Taylor fancies herself a storyteller a la Bruce Springsteen, and there were moments during her girl power motivationals that had some of us hoping she'd get on with it and play a song already. In those instances, she creeps right up to being a caricature of herself, doling out generic platitudes about self esteem and not worrying about other people's opinions of you. If only there were a song in her oeuvre that covers all that in an insanely catchy, upbeat fashion...
Near the end of the show, a worn-out Bailey turned back to me and asked how much longer I thought this was gonna go. I explained how encores work and that we hadn't even heard 1989's signature tune yet. Not placated, she went over to curl up in her mom's lap, head against her chest. As the strains of "Out of the Woods" faded out and the place went dark briefly, I wondered if she would be able overcome her weariness and...
wait for it
wait for it
wait for it
"Shake it Off"?
I needn't have worried.