On Monday night, Taylor Swift performed in Kansas City for the seventh time in a little more than eight years.
With each performance, she has graduated, evolved and grown, from opening for George Strait at Kemper Arena to headlining several shows at the Sprint Center and selling out Arrowhead Stadium in September 2011.
Monday’s show at the Sprint Center was a rip-roaring two-hour extravaganza that was a feast of flash and flair for the eyes and a smorgasbord of confections for the ears.
This time, Swift is touring on “1989,” her most recent album, which celebrates the year she was born but also signifies her abrupt shift from country-flavored pop tunes to infectious pop music that is more rock- and dance-oriented.
Monday’s show was the first of two back-to-back sold-out shows at the Sprint Center, and it was by far her most spectacular.
Evidenced by the more than two dozen semi-trailers parked around the Sprint Center and the Power & Light District, the production was enormous, lavish and dazzling.
Behind Swift were her five-piece band, three backup singers and dozen dancers, and a giant three-story video screen that spanned the stage, broadcasting super-high-def images, some of them live footage, some of them videos.
Attached to the main stage was a catwalks that was at least 50-yards long. Within its midsection was another long substage, which rose about 20 feet into the air and spun, in various speeds, 180 degrees. There were also lasers, flash pots, smoke cannons, blizzards of confetti and, in the crowd, thousands of large glow-sticks, which were available in the concourses for $5.
Most notably, at every seat was taped a plastic bracelet equipped with colored lights that were controlled remotely from backstage. Throughout the show, the arena erupted into vast constellations of red, blue or white lights, all in motion, as more than 13,000 fans waved their arms in unison, creating what looked like frenzied legions of fireflies.
The music nearly played second fiddle to the production.
The set list focused heavily on “1989,” starting with the opening song, “Welcome To New York.” As Swift and her entourage sang and danced, the video screen behind them was filled with black-and-white nocturnal images of a city-scape – lots of flash and shadows. They followed that with “New Romantics,” a pop-dance anthem with a sharp 1980s Madonna flavor.
Swift’s audience adores her, and they showed it many times, none more emphatic than the three-minute-plus ovation of shrieks, cheers, whistles and applause that followed “You Belong With Me,” which she performed on acoustic guitar, perched high above the crowd, airborne on that substage.
She changed her wardrobe at least 10 times. For “How You Get the Girl,” as her dance troupe dashed around with lighted umbrellas, she performed in an ensemble blazoned with LEDs that glowed bright pink when the lights were dimmed.
During those wardrobe changes, the video screen kept the crowd entertained by broadcasting testimonials from some of her celebrity friends, like Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez and the Haim sisters, all of whom told the crowd what a swell, down-to-earth, cat-loving best friend Swift is. The last of those videos, a very unrehearsed moment showing Swift playing with her two cats, was the most genuine of all.
Much of Swift’s stage banter felt rehearsed, especially the expressions of affection to her audience, like: “You’re the loudest crowd of the tour.”
She comes off as a sincere mix of hostess, cheerleader and life coach, delivering homilies about falling in love and dealing with heartbreak. One of those came before “Clean,” a song about remaining afloat during a storm and coming out the other side refreshed, cleansed.
She also pandered to the sports fans, pausing to say howdy to members of the Kansas City Royals who, apparently, were in the arena with girlfriends, wives and children.
Except for the heavy, dirge-like rendition of “I Knew You Were Trouble,” the crowd indulged enthusiastically in every song. She remixed some of her older songs, giving them a heavier “1989” feel. The best of those was the rowdy emo-punk rendition of “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” which featured Swift strumming an electric guitar.
She has been bringing out guest performers throughout this tour.
Monday’s surprise was modern-country star Dierks Bentley, who, wearing a Van Halen T-shirt, took her back to her country days during their performance of his hit “Every Mile a Memory.”
The show ended feverishly. During “Out of the Woods,” her dancers ran along the runway holding long poles attached to large paper airplanes – kites that they manipulated to swerve and swoop, like a flock of birds. By the time the song was over, confetti was spilling from the rafters.
For the finale, she got in line on that airborne substage with her 12 dancers, each fettered to a post by a strap and a belt, and sang “Shake It Off,” a jackhammer dance-pop track from “1989” that taps into the ebullient vibe of OutKast’s “Hey Ya.” Swift danced along, too, joyously and uninhibitedly, like no one was watching.
Swift has called the “1989” album and tour a “rebirth,” as if she had been away for a while.
This felt more like a display of re-invigoration from a woman in her mid-20s who is heading full-steam into her second decade of skyrocketing pop stardom and who won’t be going away any time soon.
Welcome to New York; New Romantics; Blank Space; I Knew You Were Trouble; I Wish You Would; How You Get the Girl; I Know Places; You Belong With Me; Clean; Love Story; Style; Every Mile a Memory (with Dierks Bentley); Bad Blood; We Are Never Getting Back Together; Wildest Dreams; Out of the Woods; Shake It Off.