The Blonde With The Sparkly Snake Microphone was in Cleveland on July 17, performing at FirstEnergy Stadium. Of course, she had to send some love to her very own guitar player from Cleveland and long time member of The Agency, Paul Sidoti. In case you don’t know, The Agency is the inside name of Taylor’s tour band. We here are just pretenders.
Remember when you hit the brakes too soon, Taylor Nation?
Here at the Swift Agency, just a guy who does not condone irresponsible driving, we hope everyone drove carefully and left the racing to the race track. As for the ninjas and me, we spent it at home and watching the social networks for details. My thanks to @TSwiftNZ, @TSwiftOnTour, @Enchanted2MeetU and @901Music for keeping us up to date. There’s one advantage I can’t deny when Taylor hits a smaller stage, and that’s the fact that the Agency (Taylor Swift’s band, this blog is named after them, long story) gets a lot closer. It does also imply there’s no dance crew.
Here’s the set list if you’re curious:
I Knew You Were Trouble
You Belong With Me
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together/Bad Blood
Love Story (1989 Tour version)
This Is What You Came For
Out Of The Woods
Shake It Off
The Enchantress took the stage at around 7:30pm to start a show transitioning through a set list that included most if not all her greatest hits. Obvious omission from the list is “All Too Well” which was replaced with “This Is What You Came For”, the single written with Calvin Harris.
One day they’ll tell the story of us, Taylor Nation.
Here at the Swift Agency, just a guy who doesn’t get into drama because he already chose writing, we’re glad to actually find some videos that won’t get shut down. XFINITY recently released another video from their series on The 1989 World Tour.
Now it’s The Agency’s turn. The little five-piece touring band that are capable of covering and playing every Taylor Swift song plus have the ability to play the hits that the surprise guests bring along. Amos Heller, Paul Sidoti, Mike Meadows, David Cook and Matt Billingslea (in order from the oldest to the most recent member) are the world-class musicians that tour with Taylor Swift.
What you’re looking for has been here the whole time, Taylor Nation.
Every now and then in our lives, we hit milestones. It’s upon those times we often look back and reminisce about past accomplishments that set us on our paths. Here at the Swift Agency, just some old guy who likes to write about nostalgia and concert experiences, we think that might have been Taylor’s mindset at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey when she decided to play an acoustic version of You Belong With Me. The Sparkly Dressed brought the 1989 World Tour on July 10 and July 11.
Both days were full of surprises, with this performance being a bit of a throwback to the Fearless era on Saturday, July 11. The weekend would start on a high note with her first musical guest, The Weeknd. They performed Can’t Feel My Face. During Style, she also invited Heidi Klum and… the US Women Soccer Team, fresh for their win at the World Cup! You can read up more on that on TIME.com.
She would also bring out some of the cast of Bad Blood for a kick ass performance of the same song. You can read up more on Billboard.com.
The very next night she would be bringing Nick Jonas to perform Jealous. She also brought some her own friends to the stage, Victoria’s Secret supermodels as well as actress Uzo Aduba from the TV Series Orange Is The New Black.
Up next, the 1989 World Tour goes to Washington, DC.
A little warning here, spoilers will be in abundance and I’m not holding back anything here so this is going to be a very extensive blog post.
First and foremost, Taylor Swift is one of the biggest pop stars in the planet. That would’ve seem incredibly presumptuous to say two albums ago, but it has become a very generalized opinion. The reason I don’t say THE biggest star is just a kindness I pay to a few other pop artist who are considerably huge, have considerable followings but can’t seem to get people to sell out their concerts or chart their albums in the top ten – not to mention selling them at the one million dollar mark. I’m mentioning all this because Taylor sets the bar up that high and yet, Montreal? Not even one billboard with Taylor’s face on it? No publicity campaigns on the metro? No ads running on TV? Can we at least put some posters on the actual venue? We fans still sold out Bell Centre, but local promoters really fell asleep on this one. Evenko, up your game.
Ah, home. The roar of the crowd inside a Swiftie-packed venue is like nothing else on earth. I don’t scream myself. I just bask in that noise. I’ve been describing it since back in the Fearless era and it has never lost its power. Feels a little more solid now, as fans of Taylor have grown older but remain wide-eyed fantastically crazy. You can’t record it. You gotta be in its midst and feel the power of the full Taylor Nation gathering to see its Queen.
The Blonde With The Sparkly 1989 Microphone is no longer a princess. She has done a homage to the 80’s and come out on top as a Queen of her own sound, an influential force that can’t be ignored by the music industry, able to change its rules and influence and promote other artists around her. In Taylor’s own words, part of that new sound was her move to the big, big city of New York and perhaps for that reason, Welcome to New York becomes her starting point of a long road. I’m not super fond of this song, but I don’t hate it. There’s better offerings in her incredible 1989 album, but it does work as the welcome track to her concert. The street signs in neon and the colorful costumes give the performance an almost 50’s musical feel. Even the video screens start in black and white to finally turn into full color afterwards.
If you’ve gone to a Taylor Swift tour before, and I have had the unfair blessing of going to all of them, you know she’s influenced by her fans’ reaction. It’s been a while since she just walked around singing her lines. She’s now part of a full choreography because her fans wanted to dance more, so she dances more as well. So, off comes the colorful jacket and we’re onto New Romantics. This songs needs to be a single, but just so almost every song in 1989. I know that not every track may find success in pop radio and I know that my tastes usually run in direct contradiction, but New Romantics might the one shining exception in which we’re all in together. Incidentally, it’s true that Taylor has gone with an all male dance crew for this tour, but it works.
To say that the first notes of Blank Space were well received would be a huge understatement. The song has a class of its own and ushers in a different level of sound for the Blonde With The Sparkly Guitar. It’s also here that Taylor literally used the entire extent of her super-long catwalk stage. The length of this stage seemed to dwarf the Bell Centre and there’s more than one trick to it, but you know that the Sparkly Dressed does not give out all her secrets at the start. The cool first thing we learn as a new audience is that it gives everyone in the venue a better seat – specially if you’re in the back. Also, bonus points to T-Swizzle for swinging that golf club around 🙂
Is there a way to put new life into a well known track? I Knew You Were Trouble was often considered hip hop. Here, I dare say it becomes more, as Taylor gives it a slow sensual vibe (yes, I said sensual, grow up) but manages to still keep it classy. A rather interesting interpretation that also revealed another stage trick – the catwalk actually lifted a few feet from the ground and smoke machines are hidden along its length. If I had to give it an 80’s hint, I’d say this almost felt a bit like a Flashdance number but with a more urban, rhythmic kick. The crowd loved it and went wild with applause for what felt like five minutes. It was probably a lot less, but I was mind-stretching to make the experience last longer.
There’s good and great in the 1989 track list and then there’s exceptional. I Wish You Would is all those things and I loved that everyone around me knew the lyrics. Another Jack Antonoff collaboration that was done proper justice on stage. There are some songs I just get into and this one is a personal favorite. You want people to like it when played live and it did. Like many others, it got cheers with its recognizable first notes and was one of those big sing-alongs were everyone joined in. I almost cried, because I don’t hear people mention this one as a favorite often and I was genuinely frightened that it would be taken of the set list before I ever got to hear it live. And it really bitchin’ rocks live.
We get rain and light-up umbrellas for How You Get the Girl. This was such a cute song with all the dancers using stuff that lighted up in their costumes that it took a minute for everyone to realize that Taylor’s outfit was entirely made of lights that changed color. Also, Taylor still likes to play up the song against one person to symbolize a potential suitor, and that’s ok. However at no point did she actually had one dressed up individually to become her on-stage leading man like in past concerts. I think this says a lot about how this concert was not geared explicitly to romance in the traditional sense, but on how Taylor finds ideas romantic without involving your usual lovers’ drama. She actually would explain it herself later in the show a lot better than me.
There’s a moment here where it took me a little while to realize what was going on. During this transition of stage props, we actually got a guitar duel. The lights are dark but these are the Agency’s guitar players Paul Sidoti and Mike Meadows battling it out, although obscured by green beams of light. This is a rare Agency moment and a throwback to Taylor’s old concerts.
Sounds like there’s a pattern here, but we got another highlight of the night with I Know Places. I seriously don’t know why some critics have an issue with this song. The comparisons to Lorde abound, but I can’t believe Vulture once called this track “forgettable”. Then again, I am not really approaching this as a critic but as a fan. And that is perhaps the biggest reason why this is a biased concert review: I didn’t want to be the jaded critic but still the naive super fan that can’t help but enjoy himself rather than try to find the angle of failure.The performance is filled with doors to symbolize those blanks. I almost expected M. C. Escher’s Relativity lithograph to pop up on the screen. It received another rousing long applause from the fourteen thousand spectators in attendance.
Now we go into All You Had to Do Was Stay with another throwback. Taylor used to sing a few lines to one of her band members playing around, and it was nice that she was throwing some of the chorus at Paul Sidoti in this one. Despite the extremely lavish production, I was quite happy to catch little moments like that although I was really far in the back row. I loved the imagery in the background for this one. It’s a closeup to Taylor’s closed eyes in greyscale but as she opens them they’re really blue and the way they shined puts Georgia stars to shame- sorry, I got sidetracked for a moment. Whoever she’s got working those graphics, she’s got a world class top team there. If you look deep into those eyes, there’s lighting and there’s water shaking in them. No, I am not being poetic… That is how it appeared on the screen.
Now we go to You Are in Love which is a slow ballad. It’s very hard to sell that with choreography or visuals. Instead, Taylor opted to bring out the acoustic guitar and do this up close and personal. To accentuate that moment, she used another trick – she resorted to the stage’s ability to raise and lean up in the air so she could get close and be seen by everyone. As the song progressed, we also learn another magical trick: once raised the catwalk can rotate around to give even the people on the sides of the bowl a better view. I must confess, I knew all this in advance as I’ve been giving you spoilers through the inside versions of the tour reports, but it’s still impressive to see at close range. She also had us rehearse the last word you sing back at her during the chorus so we could all sing along.
I’ve written about Taylor’s speech before Cleanbefore. I am going to apologize that I didn’t capture it on film, but I just wanted to listen in. This moment is the most inspiring and empowering of all. You are not someone else’s opinion of you. You are not damaged goods. You are not your mistakes. What you are is a product of the lessons you’ve learned. You are stronger and wiser because you made those mistakes. You decided not to wallow in sadness and bad comments and instead put on a costume, string yourself up in lights and show up here to dance with me. Just so we’re clear, I’m paraphrasing from memory – this is not literal. I didn’t write it down, because I wanted to listen to it.
Then we move on… and go back in time for some nostalgia with Love Story. This song used to be Taylor’s magnum opus back when she was only 17 years old. Now it’s not so much her defining song, but it gained a new life with a new pop arrangement. It retained its magic and was just nostalgic enough to remind us of a younger Taylor, one that we miss and remember with affection but not enough to trade for this new inspired and empowered woman that can command a crowd like nobody else. Still, it was a chance to see Taylor work the piano and once again, the stage brought her close to everyone around the venue. I know for some of the fans up high in the rafters it was still not close enough, but Tay can do only so much.
With the stage back at ground floor, the Sparkly Dressed went into Style with gusto. There’s nothing like the few notes of the hit song to bring everyone back on their feet and for this one we got the dancers back. They had a trick up their sleeves – or rather on their feet. They could slide halfway the length of the ramp as if they were on skates. I prefer Style like this with no special catwalk guests, but to each their own. The song is just earworm candy and 80’s throwback tune along with sing along lyrics that make it a pleasure to listen to live. I also loved the 007’s style of graphics used on the screens to highlight the performance.
We finally get to see Taylor’s backup singers (aka the Starlights) up close as they get to come down the catwalk. I love that they do the same that Taylor, they alternate sides so at least half of them are always facing your side of the stage. It’s all for This Love which it’s one of those songs that I tend not to pay too much attention to. The live version is easy to listen and be enthralled by, but it still doesn’t rank high enough. At least it was a moment to see Clare, Eliotte, Kamilah and Melanie on stage. Correction:I originally said I’d rather hear “Wonderland” but the song that it usually alternates with is “You Are In Love”, not “This Love”. Thanks, readers!
Afterwards, the stage gets dark and we get drums and flashes. The crowd gets wild as the first lines of Bad Blood hit the speakers. This is yet another phase of the concert in which Taylor comes out in leather and high boots ready to kick some ass. There is just something very urban-esque and tribal-ish about this performance that made it just amazing to watch and listen to. The dancers keep re-arranging these structures apparently made of metal and glass (probably aluminium and plastic) for T-Swizzle to walk on them. She even gets one moment in which a dancer (Mark? Mason? I can’t tell) always does a funny thing behind the glass every concert. This time he chose to lift up his shirt.
Oh, also there’s a part where Taylor counts to three before continuing the song. She did it twice, once in English and once in French.
We’re running deep into the night at this point so we need another hit. Taylor takes an electric guitar, winds up and strums. She looks and sounds like a rockstar at this point, so I only had spoiler clues to know we are getting a new arrangement for We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. It’s not one of my faves, but the arrangement is completely out of this world – Taylor went completely Pat Benatar / Joan Jett with the guitar as we get video of her looking like Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner or Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. You get where I’m going? Can you imagine Imperator Furiosa rocking out? That was Taylor on that song. Sorry if you haven’t seen the movie. An even longer non-stop cheer rang out that seemed endless following this performance because it rocked the house.
But it’s quiet time again. This time with Taylor at what looks to be a piano stolen from the lost city of Atlantis or TRON. She even has bubbles coming up on the screen. The Enchantress plays something from Speak Now you probably haven’t heard in a while. It’s Enchanted leading into Wildest Dreams which I hardly consider a slow song and is more like a power ballad. It works and it’s fitting and it gets people waving their light up wristbands. I would’ve loved a close up on the piano, but this will have to do. I know my pictures have hands and light up stuff being waved around, but it’s hard to get a picture from far back. Besides, it’s a concert. You do have to expect someone to put a sign on your way.
Taylor gets up from the piano and we see she is literally the Sparkly Dressed at this point as she goes into Out of the Woods. I love the background for this song. It’s just the woods going in and out, but it also alternates with this cgi animation of two foxes running in the woods. My congratulations to whom she has working in graphics behind the scenes. These days I don’t hear this song that much, but it was good to relive it live. She had this abrupt cuts of the song that I found a bit of an acquired taste. She also made stops at every phrase during the bridge. I guess she’s trying to give it some new flavor but there’s something to be said for the original version. Very high point of this song, we get the paper airplanes on cables and we get some plane shaped confetti.
All throughout the evening, we’ve been getting these video intermissions of Taylor’s famous friends: Lena Dunham, Serena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, Gigi Hadid, HAIM, Karlie Kloss and Abigail Andersen giving us insight into Taylor as a person. I think Abigail got the biggest pop reaction from the crowd. That is, until now. We get the verified rockstars of Taylor Swift’s life, her cats, making an appearance on screen. It’s Meredith and Olivia been cute. Taylor presents each one and tells us how it’s easy to tell which one is the person friendly one and which one is more of a diva. Meredith manages to scurry off her arms and almost bites her trying to get away. Some people think this is when she scratched poor Tay’s leg, but we don’t know for sure.
The notes for Shake It Off get everyone on their feet for the closing number. This track has been kinda hinted throughout the entire night, with viral fan video lip syncs and behind the scenes. The very songs that surround it in the album have been played. I don’t particularly go out of my way to hear it, but it’s grown on me. It’s an enjoyable performance with all the dancers and Taylor boarding the stage for a merry go around dance-a-thon. The walkway lifts, spins (at quite a speed, I see why they need security restraints) and we all get a clear view for the final bow and the good-byes from Taylor and her dance crew. She finally goes back to the main stage and I only get some blurry zooms as the Agency closes in to take a bow with the Blonde With The Sparkly 1989 Microphone.
She promises that she will return. And I really want to believe that. I really want us to make some noise over it. I wish there was more than one night for Montreal next time. I also wish that there was one more concert for me, but I’m afraid it won’t be for a while. Too many things in life are not making that possible right now, specially the economic one. Not that it’s that big of an issue, because this one performance, this bright moment in time in which we’ve spent a microcosm of a lifetime in Taylor’s own Nation, is more than enough to keep us going.
I want you to see this concert. Not in video, but in life. In your life. I know that’s not possible for everyone, and for that I feel immensely thankful and blessed that I got to experience it when other super fans can only dream of being there. But if you are among the happy and the lucky that get to go, please do me a favor. Take a picture, take a clip, but don’t overdo it. Once in a while, live the moment and let someone else record that. It might be a throwback to say, capture it, remember it but it’s true. You want to live this concert with your eyes more than lens of your camera.
As concerts go, this is not a concert for non-fans. As review of mine go, this is biased to the extreme. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t want to go to a concert as a music critic. You go as a fan. You go to live the experience. And that’s why I don’t believe that this is a review at all. This is not even a retelling, because this happened in my mind more than it happened on stage. That is the beauty of what Taylor does. The very best version of the 1989 World Tour happened because you and Taylor and me were all there.
All I can say now is, I hope you have the same or a better experience that I did at your concert. And if you live anywhere else where there are no concerts from the Sparkly Dressed, I hope for a brief moment I’ve been able to describe to you what it feels to be in one.