This is going to be a long read, Taylor Nation.
There’s always a difference between a picture and being a witness, as there is between the video and being there. You will see the pictures, you will see the video, you’re still far off from a RED Tour concert unless you’ve been in one.
I was lucky enough to be in the pit for all three nights of the grand finale of the RED Tour at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee on the nights of September 19, 20 and 21. To tell you just the facts of what happened would be a chronicle of events. To let you know how good it was would be a review. What I do is try to describe how it feels to be there, hopefully in words that can make you feel as close as possible to be there… an impossible task doomed to fail, but I happen to be a sucker for lost battles.
There’s nothing that does justice to that anticipation before the Princess in Red comes out. I’ve lived it through the Fearless Tour, the Speak Now Tour and already for the Red Tour in Toronto. Her two warm-up songs (the ones that play right before she comes out) are Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and the Lenny Kravitz version of “American Woman”. I miss hearing Tom Petty’s “American Girl” from the Speak Now Tour, but the new songs are more that adequate. Everyone in the venue is screaming at this point. I’m screaming too. It’s too early, I should pace myself, I should try to hold back… Nah, screw it. You have to be part of the reverberating welcoming scream that threatens to bring down the roof.
It’s a bittersweet moment, one of the many tonight. You see, for a lot of people this concert (because I am writing this as if it were one huge one) is a chance to say hello to Taylor Swift. I’m here to say goodbye for a long time. Turns out I’m here to say hello for the first time as well, but let’s not jump ahead…
The Sparkly Dressed starts us up with the arena-rock number “State of Grace”. It’s a crowd pleaser but also a song of the highest caliber for any artists. It doesn’t sound like a Taylor Swift song. The Sparkly Dressed has been playing for the formula to end up with many flavors of what her sound is like today. This is just one. It’s well suited to open the show and gives us the first taste of a big sounding number without relying too many visuals. Ok, except the curtain and the first appearance of the Princess in Red which is the biggest visual of them all.
The song is to be immediately followed by “Holy Ground” which is an interesting contrast – at least visually. It’s a very similar big arena sound (no they don’t sound alike – but they would belong in the same album). Visually, she brings out the drums and dancers drop from the ceiling on wires. It’s almost a club atmosphere… if a club were to belong to Cirque du Soleil, that is. She doesn’t overplay the flashing lights segment. I’m very thankful for that. It’s a taste and nothing more. But on two songs she’s demonstrated the two basic premises of the concert. A musical-centric performance in which the music is the only thing doing the talking and one in which visuals enhance your experience.
Of course it’s nothing compared to what she’s about to do yet, but it’s almost like the Enchantress has sampled your two basic flavors as an initial offering. It’s like saying, this is what I can do if you want to see more, keep watching. This is where she takes a pause to talk to us and let us know she truly appreciates us being here.
She doesn’t say exactly the same thing every night. She has guidelines and marks that she needs to hit. But she will bring up an honest line, and she will tell you she loves you because she does. It is rehearsed and it is streamlined because the show is running on a schedule. She did caught herself going on a bit longer during the last show and had to let us know it might be the cold medicine. Yes, T-Swizzle was fighting a cold.
It’s not the first time that she performs while being sick on tour, but it was the only time on this tour it had happened – just during the last three shows. She begged us to sing loudly to make up for her lack of strength but she did pushed herself to finish each performance properly.
“Red” is the chosen track behind the album and this tour. It’s a transition song that is the only one that gets a more lengthy introduction because it also explains the motive behind the core of the songs played on the setlist. It is the flagship track of the album but lends itself more to simple aesthetics – the dancers bring out red flags. It also has a rocking guitar duet between The Agency’s Paul Sidoti and the Blonde With The Sparkly RED Guitar herself.
“You Belong With Me” is the song often credited with putting Taylor on the map in the Pop charts. It appears in the concert in the form of a 60’s doo-wop female chorus. If I have to be honest, it’s not my favorite arrangement. Then again, it sends a clear message. This song was a clear hit, but it’s literally in the past. She has to move forward.
Allow me for a moment to remember that original stage production where a young Fearless One would rise out of a stage in a bandleader’s uniform. We’re a long way from those days, but they’re in a happy place in my mind.
It’s a clever segue into another old fashioned scene for “The Lucky One”, for which we get a little video intro from the Enchantress in rare acknowledgement of her stardom. The classic golden era of hollywood immediately draws parallels to Britney Spears’ own “Lucky”.
On the other hand the song’s lyrics have been popularly linked to Joni Mitchell (down to the part with a made up name and disappearing from show business). The Blonde With The Sparkly Guitar often quotes Joni Mitchell herself.
The Queen of Sparks breaks out the banjolin for “Mean”. The grammy-winning song can’t be skipped. Originally meant as an answer to harsh reviews from critics, it’s become an anti-bullying rally song.
The Princess in Red gives us an introduction in which cold medicine is once again the culprit of her rambling. She acknowledges this with good humor. Then she also comes up with the most magical of quotes I’ve ever heard:
I think who you are is how you treat other people. That is it.
– Taylor Swift
That blew me away. That was not rehearsed. I was not the only one that was impressed, because after the show I- oops. Sorry, that’s for later. I almost jumped ahead 🙂
The Agency brings the laughs during “Mean” if you manage to look close. Caitlin makes faces. Amos starts picking on people in the pit, pointing at them with every “you…” then he and David start an awkward staring contest.
It’s time for some memories as a video reel starts up (yes I know it’s a sound effect and it’s all digital – work with me people), counting the years of a young Taylor’s life from childhood to her first steps into music and up to her tours. It’s a segue into “22” that brings out the most energetic display of the Enchantress and her dancers as they take the stage by storm. I love this performance.
It’s specially amazing for the people in the back of the venue as this is the song that T-Swizzle uses to travel to the B-Stage in the shoulders of her dancers. She also uses this opportunity to ask the audience to say hello to her dancers. To your right, a shot of the dancers when they showed up in the pit for a visit.
This is the time in which the Blonde With The Sparkly Guitar just picks up her guitar (not the sparkly one) and plays acoustic. That means it’s time for the wildcard / classic / secret song. I believe for two out of three nights she had to ask people to excuse her while she blew her nose at this point. She was self-conscious enough not to do it in the open (we know it would’ve ended up in youtube if she had).
“Our Song” was played on Thursday, September 19. I know it’s been played most often than any other song but remember, it’s the song she played at her new high school in Hendersonville when she first moved to Tennessee. It later became her first hit single. She’s connected very heavily with this song.
She performed “Fifteen” on Friday, September 20. This track remains a powerful but subtle song for both teenagers and nostalgic adults alike. You can’t tell me you don’t feel pinpricks in your skin with that last line: “take a deep breath, girl…”
The last secret song for Saturday, September 21, was from the Red album: “Sad Beautiful Tragic”. It’s a slow ballad. It’s one of those songs that get lost among the other big songs of Red which lends itself to be a secret fan favorite. It’s a very natural song that you feel you’ve heard somewhere before. I love the lyrically rich bridge.
It’s here that the Enchantress brings out Ed Sheeran for their duet of “Everything Has Changed”. Ed surprised her by wearing a Grumpy Cat hat (Friday?) and a cowboy hat on the last concert night. I was sorry to have no way to get a decent picture here.
Perhaps this one will do though 🙂
The friendship between Tay and Ed has to be one of the most adorable ones on the planet. Ed is certainly talented and one of the most down to earth personalities to take the stage. He will be sorely missed during the international leg of the Red Tour.
“Begin Again” was only performed for the first night. It’s too bad for such a wonderful song, but with Taylor’s cold it’s the one acoustic song that I had anticipated would be the first to go from the set.
Drop everything now…
I’ve always loved that starting line for “Sparks Fly”, a song that was basically brought on board the Speak Now album because fans asked for it so much. It has that old-school-Taylor kind of feel to it. It’s actually from a while back, and performed by the Sparkly Dressed at local fairs and festivals.
This is also the performance that makes me suffer because she travels back to the main stage via a flying balcony. I’m kinda trying to act all cool and enjoy the performance while she’s literally on a platform that hangs from the ceiling. I like to see the Princess in Red perform with both feet on the ground.
That means it’s time for the secret guests to make an appearance and she had one for each night! First up, Luke Bryan. It had been hinted up from sound check, and I was concerned. Luke took the ACM Entertainer of the Year for 2013, and I was hoping that no grudges were held by the fans in attending. Luckily this is Nashville and the more country stars on stage the better. Here’s “I Don’t Want This Night To End”
The second night, Rascal Flatts, the band who took a young Taylor Swift as an opening act took the stage. They performed “What Hurts The Most”
And on the last night of the Red Tour, the secret guest was Taylor’s previous opening act, Hunter Hayes. Here’s “I Want Crazy”.
The fact that the Sparkly Dressed employs such a talented band as The Agency carries a double benefit. Anytime that during the Red Tour there’s a set or costume change, the Enchantress has a wealth of talent at her disposal to fill in the time. That’s how we get the amazing Caitlin Evanson.
The Queen of Sparks shifts gears completely with “I Knew You Were Trouble”. The song is regarded by everyone as a departure from anything else she’s ever written or performed before. She co-wrote this song with producers Max Martin and Shellback. It’s certainly different and that’s why she also looked into doing something visually stunning with its performance on stage.
It’s theater and drama colliding as this live performance brings a familiar sugar and spice dichotomy. T-Swizzle appears in a white dress to then transition (via one of the few on-stage quick changes remaining) into a one piece. You may call it suggestive but it’s hardly blatant or tacky. The limit is pushed here for Taylor who’s usually conservative without ever being revealing or jarringly shocking. To put it another way, everyone keeps their clothes on.
But nothing compares to “All Too Well” played live. I don’t really have words that will make this song – and its live performance- any justice. It’s just an amplified mass rising upwards full of emotion. I get choked up just thinking about it.
I was telling a friend of mine that there is a moment after the song hits its vocal peak where Taylor stops for a minute to look back into the crowd. I don’t have, and will never have a pers[onal picture of that moment. I may find one online, but that’s hardly the point. I don’t want to take a picture because this song, which I think is Taylor’s strongest, has that moment where she is at her weakest. And at that moment, she’s probably staring at sea of cameras and cellphones. I want her to find one actual human face staring back at her, so I’m glad to miss taking that shot.
Little did I know that I would be staring at that face at a lot closer distance soon enough…. Oh, sorry. Jumping ahead again.
“Love Story” come on with a steampunk theme! Well, it’s more of a toy story if you can handle that.
I think there’s something that the Forever and Always Fearless One is trying to say here (disclaimer: I might be wrong as usual). I think she may be putting the ideal love story in the realm of toys and dreams, having learned that real love is hard and the ideal love is just a childhood fantasy. I’m not saying she doesn’t believe in love – I’m saying she’s learned relationships are more complicated than fairy tales.
And with that, we’re ready for “Treacherous”. I am still on the fence on this song. I understand its lyrics but I’ve always found the transition between the verse and the chorus a bit jarring, musically speaking. It’s like the verse starts already in the middle of something that was already playing. I don’t have a musical background, I’m only going by ear here.
Visually, the performance is Taylor on a balance beam – which is the secret crane built into the catwalk. It’s very bare visually except for a few of the dancers already in circus costume.
Of course the reason for the circus theme is explained immediately as the Princess in Red dons her ringleader attire for the final performance of “We Are Never Getting Back Together”, her hit single from Red. It’s her fastest rising single, it’s an earworm of a song and another co-write with Max Martin and Shellback. It’s more of a huge sing-along which is good. We’re trying to help Taylor keep some of her voice.
And on the very last night of the show, it included Ed Sheeran dressed up as a clown. Wait, what?
It’s unreal. The Red Tour is done. It seems just the other day it was starting up. It changes you a little bit. You grow up, even just a little, during one of the Sparkly Dressed’s concerts. The Red Tour is a lot more streamlined than her previous concerts. There’s a lot less intermission moments and a lot more happening on stage.
The Taylor team is a well oiled touring machine. It’s lost a bit of its raw awkwardness that I also found it charming during the Fearless Tour. It has similar, although less fantastic, production than the Speak Now Tour. I’d say it has more production geared towards larger, slightly edgier, audiences.
Is it better? Fearless happened at a certain point in T’s career and Speak Now at a further point ahead. There’s a natural progression of quality and a natural descent in rawness. I love that she’s kept the acoustic set on the B stage. I love that The Agency remains personable and interact with the audience.
It’s not over. She’s going to change again. There will be another album. She’s going into that. There will be, eventually, another tour in the US and Canada. But up next is New Zealand and Australia and other international dates. I’m done here.
The last show of the Red Tour, as the RED lettering comes down and the lights come on, I move briskly – not towards the exit but to a particular section of the arena to join a few people there. A few, very lucky people.
I’m a bit nervous. I wait. We’re given instructions. I retain what I can and find myself calm and nervous at once. Then we are asked to follow someone through a door, into the backstage of the arena. More instructions. Food. Drinks.
An announcement. A minute passes. Someone walks in. Tall. Blonde. Says hello to a group of people, then another and then approaches my group. She says hello. My reply?
“Hello, Sparkly Dressed.”
Coming up next: Meeting Taylor Swift!