Code 'Red': Swift a hot act at the Linc

Taylor Swift's new album is about girlhood giving way to adulthood, as well as leaving the trappings of country music almost entirely behind.
Taylor Swift's new album is about girlhood giving way to adulthood, as well as leaving the trappings of country music almost entirely behind.
Posted: July 22, 2013

In case any of the 50,000 at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday night didn't know who the headliner was, Taylor Swift made sure to introduce herself.

"I'm Taylor," said the massively popular pop singer who "grew up just up the road, on a Christmas tree farm in Reading.

"I write lots of songs about my feelings."

That she does, and these days those songs are coded Red, the name of her current album and tour, and the color of "falling in love and going through terrible, traumatic breakups."

The approximately 95 percent female audience got with the program with clothes to match their heroine's emotional temperament (and lipstick), all the way down to Taylor Swift red Keds, one of her four endorsement deals advertised on video screens as the crowd waited for her to come on, just before 9.

Sparkly signs spelling out R-E-D also were easily edited to honor Ed Sheeran, the British songwriter and loop-pedal specialist who opened, and joined Swift in her set for "Everything Has Changed," and whose ginger hair conveniently matches the tour.

For Swift, who's now 23 and has been making hits since 2006, Red is an uneven but impressive transitional album, about girlhood giving way to adulthood, as well as leaving the trappings of country music almost entirely behind.

She did play banjo, while standing up to bullies real or imagined, on "Mean," the one nod to her rootsy roots, which she said is partly about the realization that even when you grow up, "there's always somebody picking on you." That combative song, when coupled with its predecessor "The Lucky One," an examination of fame as a booby prize, suggested all is not sweetness and light within her Swiftian world.

In 2013, Swift is the only act in the world selling out two nights at the Linc. (She was scheduled to be back Saturday night.) Playing in such an oversized space - and catering to an eager-to-be-entertained crowd of kids as young as age 5 - means a pop extravaganza is called for, with up to a dozen costume changes, punctuated by multiple fireworks explosions.

The Red tour delivers those prerequisites. It peaked with the antique shop Alice in Wonderland circus ringmaster presentation of the closing, exultant breakup song "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," which found Swift in a top hat serenading the crowd from a floating balcony, high above.

Sometimes all the highly choreographed bells and whistles were to the detriment of the music, however. Or they increased the impersonal feel of songs like the mildly U2-ish "State of Grace," in which the individuality of Swift's voice is sacrificed in an effort to stretch beyond her musical comfort zone.

The show really found its footing, though, when Swift was carried through the crowd to press the flesh with her people, and set up shop on a second blessedly bare stage at the back of the house.

There, she cavorted with her team of dancers on the cheerfully chunky power pop of "22" (which was preceded by a cute video montage of Taylor through the ages), and most satisfying, accompanied herself on guitar on "Safe & Sound," a song from the Hunger Games movie.

The big production numbers that followed that stripped-down interlude were more successful than those that preceded it. Surprisingly so, in the case of the "I Knew You Were Trouble," complete with its bass-heavy dubstep breakdown, and predictably with the immensely satisfying fairy-tale romance "Love Story," which only those with the hardest of hearts would deny is a great pop song.

The irony about Swift on the Red tour is that most stars who entertain the masses with razzle-dazzle do it, at least in part, because magic tricks like standing alone on stage and speaking intimately to 50,000 people with a song you wrote yourself is beyond them. For Swift, that hard part comes naturally, but when it comes to mastering the art of the pop spectacle, she's still on a learning curve.


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

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