Taylor Swift works crowd, local angle smoothly

Posted: August 08, 2011

Count yourself lucky, parents who brought your screaming, deliriously happy daughters to see local-girl-made-good Taylor Swift's Speak Now tour at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night in South Philadelphia.

Swift, who reminded the crowd of 51,000 that "I actually grew up right down the road in Reading, Pa." - though, actually, it was in nearby Wyomissing, in Berks County - is playing only six outdoor football stadium shows on the North American tour named after her multiplatinum 2010 album.

So if you thought all that ecstatic shrieking was loud when the pop singer-songwriter took the stage to Tom Petty's "American Girl" at the start of the two-hour, eight-outfit production, or when she floated above the crowd on a suspended-by-wires faux balcony on the fairy-tale closer "Love Story" - well, just imagine how loud it would have been if there were a roof on the building.

At 21, the always-precocious Swift is already a practiced show woman. And she comes by her enormous appeal to young girls naturally.

On the one hand, she is the glamorous, nearly 6-foot-tall porcelain-skinned country-pop princess. On the other, she's a gangly, barely-out-of-her-teens, semi-awkward girl next door, who made no vocal flubs on Saturday but is by no means a powerhouse vocalist.

Her strength, instead, is turning diary entries into supercatchy pop songs that display a schooled-by-country sense of craftsmanship but never feel like they come off the assembly line.

At the Linc, Swift put on a show padded with too many watch-the-dancers-while-I-put-on-another-dress interludes. And it started to drag during the pre-encore stretch, with the lumbering "Haunted" and a "Dear John" (the expert John Mayer takedown) marred by inappropriate fireworks that spoiled the intimacy of the moment.

Otherwise, it was pretty much an "Enchanted" evening (to borrow a Speak Now song title). Swift seemed moved and showed skill at milking the affections of the crowd in "the place I'm from," where she once played "festivals and fairs, coffeehouses, and karaoke contests."

At the start, she recalled her father watching Eagles games on TV when she was growing up, and for "Fifteen," she and her entire band - whom she praised lavishly but never introduced - donned team jerseys.

More imaginatively, Swift, who had the Elton John lyrics "Cause I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom" scrawled on her left arm, worked the local angle into her song list.

Mid-set, she walked to the back of the floor, where she played ukulele while sitting under a silver fairy tree. There she did "Fearless," with a bit of Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" thrown in, and her own "Last Kiss" before cannily adding Pink's "Who Knew," and "Unpretty," by TLC, the 1990s hit-makers that featured the late Philadelphia rapper Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes.

There was one country-flavored segment, during which Swift, who also played guitar and piano, flecked a banjo and did "Mean," the anti-bullying anthem. It's not one of her best songs, but reinforces the idea that Swift is the nicest of nice girls in a nasty, oversexualized pop landscape.

That may well be true, but the compelling thing about "Mean," and much of Speak Now, is that it's not as nicey-nice as you might think. When she hits back, like when she called the "Mean" bully "a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life" or when, in "Better Than Revenge," she targeted a boyfriend-stealing actress "better known for the things she does on a mattress," she can be quite nasty. And that bodes well for her as well as her screaming schoolgirl fans as they mature together in a mean, grown-up world.


Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628, ddeluca@phillynews.com, or @delucadan on Twitter. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at http://www.philly.com/inthemix

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