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Swift show is worthy spectacle

by Ryan Snyder

Taylor Swift shows off her Sharpie sleeve at the Greensboro date on the “Speak Now” tour. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

With an arsenal of self-penned songs deeply sympathetic to the young and lovesick, Taylor Swift might wear her heart on her sleeve, but during shows on her Speak Now tour, Swift’s heart has company. Scrawled down her left arm in thick, black felt pen during a June 30 performance at the Greensboro Coliseum, Swift brandished a lyric from the Ingrid Michaelson tune “Breakable,” itself released only a few months before Swift’s debut album. It’s been a place for Swift to convey her influences to her young fans, Michaelson being one she’s said to particularly admire. Other nights it was Tom Petty or Faith Hill or Andy Grammer.

Andy who? Right, but it’s indubitable that Swift’s fans at that May 27 concert discovered him almost immediately after the conclusion of a two-hour, 17-song extravaganza. Her sway over her audience is Bieberesque, maybe more so. To the 15,000-plus screaming tweens at the sold-out Greensboro show, and those in every other soldout crowd on this tour, Swift is the biggest thing in pop music, though sometimes the poor thing acted like she didn’t know it. She’s mastered the deer-in-headlights, the aw-shucks, and the who-me? and wielded them all as expert accoutrement to the lavish production transpiring all around her.

Swift’s set was as much a Broadway musical as it was crossover country concert, with a company of dancers affecting a mini Oklahoma! during “Mean,” serving as a squad of violinists during “Back to December,” and enacting a wedding during “Speak Now.” Easily in the biggest tour of her young career, and one as meticulous as any arena-level act today, Swift nonetheless commanded the stage at all times. She struck a number of poses simply to soak up the ambiance, maybe a little too often, as anyone who’s ever seen her on any number of awards shows knows the applause-milking pose to which she’s prone.

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As much glitz as there was onstage, it met its rival every time the house lights dropped for a set changeover. Glowsticks and Christmas lights lit up the coliseum, illuminating signs that could be read from anywhere within, and their bearers were the echo chamber for every verse. You can’t overstate the emotional connection Swift has forged with her young audience. She’s fashioned herself as the quintessential big sister type; an honest-to-God positive role model with a kind word and sound advice tucked into every verse. But you also get the sense that it’s not the product of intensive PR coaching, but derived from sincerity. Sure, some of her stage banter was recycled — i.e., how this show was particularly special to her — but her trips into the crowd, doling out big hugs to her fans, validate her doeeyed gaze.

You got the sense that this performance might have been the introduction to live music for a sizable portion of the crowd, and that being the case, Swift set a high bar. You don’t, however, have to be a hysterical, star-struck adolescent to appreciate what the 21-year-old brings to the pop culture equation. Her songwriting is na’ve, yet unquestionably catchy; she hasn’t particularly mastered any instruments, but she’s pretty handy on guitar, piano and banjo; her gangly locomotion rends her intimidatingly-pretty-girl armor and makes her all that much more becoming; and most exceptionally, she writes all of her own songs. Not too many pop stars can make that claim, if any. We’ve only recently outgrown a generation of provocative, oversexualized MTV nubiles dominating the pop airwaves. Swift is young, but she’s as old school as they come these days. You get the sense that she can and will eventually explore the boundaries just beyond pop, make completely worthwhile music in the process, and maybe even be the inspiration for a Sharpie sleeve of her own.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan

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