This review has Steve’s byline, but it was written by both Steve and our Intrepid Crave! Guest Reviewer Debbie, who braved the SnakePit at last night’s concert, and who reviewed the Tampa show of Taylor Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour for Crave! in episode 67.
Time was when a concert was a simple affair — an act came on stage, played a dozen or so songs, and left. The crowd would cheer, the act would play, inevitably, an encore, and then everyone would go home, quite happy.
Then the stadium tour began. The Beatles created the idea, the Stones honed it, and now Taylor Swift has made it an art form of her own. And her latest, the Reputation Stadium Tour (it’s even badged as a stadium tour), is, frankly, a masterpiece.
Following opening sets from Charli XCX (outstandingly energetic and fun— the perfect opener for Swift) and local champions Broods (good, but despite the hometown-crowd goodwill, slightly less of a smash than either of the women who sandwiched them), the lights went down over a triangular stage that branched off into two runways and had a huge — seriously, it was over a hundred feet high — screen backdropped behind it, and Swift appeared from the centre of the screens, enveloped in smoke and a black sparkly leotard and knee-high boots, and the spectacle started. …Ready For It? led into I Did Something Bad, but last night’s concert at Mount Smart Stadium was very definitely not Something Bad.
With maybe ten or twelve dancers round her, Swift worked her way through a twenty-song set, broken into six acts, which demonstrated quite keenly why she is perhaps the most successful and influential musician performing anywhere in the world today. She can dance, of that there’s no doubt, and she can play — guitar on Starlight, piano on Call It What You Want — and she looks fantastic, even in the rain that intermittently soaked Auckland last night. And she can put on a show — from the enormous stage to the snakes that rose up into the sky, from the glittery egg that carried her from the main stage to a rear stage where she sang Shake It Off with Charli XCX and Georgia from Broods to the costume changes and the pyro, a Taylor Swift concert is a spectacle for the ages.
But what Taylor Swift does quite wonderfully is connect with her audience. Even as the Reputation Stadium Tour draws to a close — she’d already played fifty shows before last night’s appearance at Mount Smart, with only two dates at the Tokyo Dome left in a fortnight’s time — Swift still seems genuinely, honestly, charmingly and disarmingly, delighted with what’s happening in front of her. In front of forty or fifty thousand people, she seems almost in awe of her own good fortune, and somehow manages to make everyone in a packed house feel like she is singing directly to them. And, despite her saving her biggest hits — Shake It Off, Blank Space — for the folk in the cheap seats when she was carried to a couple of smaller stages half-way down the field, even the pit experience was different from most stadium concerts, the SnakePit a much smaller, more comfortable, less crowded, less pushy and shovey, and entirely more chill experience. And, despite the floor of stage being high enough that any of us under six feet struggled to see anything much below Taylor’s knees, she made us feel like she was singing just for us. And in lieu of the standard “Auckland, you’re the greatest” platitudes, Swift played Out Of The Woods, a song that didn’t feature in the standard setlist for this tour, telling the audience that she can’t sing it without remembering the beaches of New Zealand where it was filmed.
And, of course, the singing. The stage, the dancers, the costumes, none of this would count for much if Swift didn’t have the music to back it up. She has the songs — Look What You Made Me Do is a gloriously snarly beast of a song on stage, Dancing With Our Hands Tied is an entirely more delicate thing — and, more importantly, she has the voice to deliver them. Despite apologies that singing in the rain had given her a cold that compromised her voice — and, trust me, if it had we weren’t noticing it — she sang with emotion and energy, power and fire. Perhaps it’s the famously personal content of her lyrics. But Swift showed that while the production behind her, around her, was outstanding, it’s there to enhance her performance, not to fill any gaps. She has a voice and a stage presence that are more than equal to the task of filling a venue like Mount Smart Stadium, whether she’s singing a simpler number like Dress, just her and a single dancer on a smaller, intimate stage, or climbing the scaffolding of the main stage with her dancers through Bad Blood and Should’ve Said No. And when it’s just her, singing Getaway Car, an hour and a half or more into the show, no dancers, no distractions, just film of American scenery on the screens behind her, you can see what the fuss is about.
Taylor Swift has re-invented the stadium tour, mastered it, and the Reputation Stadium Tour has been a massive success, delighting countless hundreds of thousands of fans and netting countless tens of millions of dollars. Last night’s show made it clear that Taylor Swift is a very, very talented artist at the height of her powers.
Photos by Steve McCabe