Big RED: Taylor Swift’s show, audience grows up fast

by Ryan Snyder

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan

Taylor Swift’s last Greensboro tour stop in July 2011 was everything one would expect from a young pop idol newly but utterly entrenched into the graces of real, unfiltered stardom. It was grand, sleek and essentially without reproach thanks to Swift’s wholesome, girl-next-door appeal and indisputable capacity to entertain, but it also didn’t feel like an entirely personal affair. At 21, she had mastered the deer-in-headlights demeanor. She rendered herself as so overcome by the love of the gargantuan Greensboro Coliseum crowd that her primary mode of communication then was the hand heart, which remains a common trope among her audience.

A lot has changed in two years, and when Swift returned to the Greensboro Coliseum last Thursday for the tail end of her Red tour, she was hardly dependent on lovey gesticulations to convey what was on her mind. The smile that so slowly crept across her face as she rose from underneath the stage on a platform was the furthest that utility went. The show itself had gotten even bigger, more visually striking and more daring than anything she’s ever done — it’s quite possibly the best arena-sized concert production of 2013 — but she also brought a level of engagement that’s hardly seen in performances this size.

There was little doubt that most impressive aspects were reserved for the big-beat numbers, i.e. the ones where you’re reminded that Swift has left the country paradigm far in her rearview, despite the half-dozen CMA nominations announced two days before this show. She turned up as the belle of the ball for a Disney-esque fantasy created for “The Lucky One,” while “22” was rendered with presumed nostalgia through a Grease-like affect that really only would have resonated though her 11- to 16-year-old constituency via parental proxy. The moments when it was just Swift addressing her 14,000-plus audience, however, were some of the most fascinating.

Her overtures weren’t brief, either, if only because she’s attained the clout to be methodical. If the pace at which the Red tour has reached its conclusion — only three cities remained in this six-month, 67-show leg following Thursday’s set — almost a year after the album’s release was any indication, time is a key component to expressing the more mature, dignified themes with which Swift made the album. Standing at the end of the catwalk before and in front of a sea of red — on the Speak Now tour she was sequestered to a flat-faced stage; here, she engages her fans in the full 360 degrees — she soliloquized the significance of the title of the album and its tour just before the song of the same name.

Love and empowerment were the obvious associations for a singer so publicly and constantly on the precipice of heartbreak, but Swift parlayed into something magnanimous and relatable. The moments were no doubt scripted, but the felt as earnest as the audible she called when she brought the non-canonical “Change” into her set list on a whim.

“You just can’t make some people like you,” she said later during a similar treatise to preface “Mean,” as if a crowd that included a healthy smattering of decked-out twentysomethings, male and female (oddly enough, she derides the hipster-y quotient on Red, but it’s now a not-insignificant portion of her audience), and middle-aged women among the usual suspects in wildly inventive attire was worried about being accepted. Her music is making for peculiar bedfellows, that much is certain. What’s most interesting about her expected audience is how the electronic scene and its garish costumery has trickled into the teenage zeitgeist to where it’s become commonplace to show up dressed with strands of Christmas lights, knee-high socks and oversized Day-Glo sunglasses.

It wasn’t the case just two years ago, but it’s as if her scene has evolved with her. There certainly weren’t any of the (stylish) dubstep components found in “I Knew You Were Trouble” on Speak Now, and her live presentation of the song rearranged the recorded version to better suit the electro-baroque production. Likewise, she flipped the concept of “Mean” from the three-minute Oklahoma! of the previous tour to be a sedate, coffeehouse tune, a great complement to the shambled Ed Sheeran’s appearance for “Everything Has Changed,” that amplified its blunt honesty. It was good, so much so that it was easy to forgive Swift for strumming a banjo, or for the show’s encore-less, but brilliant, confetti-laden sign off of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” She sounded like she meant it, but we all know that’s not the case.