As Taylor Swift performed the title track from her “Red” album Friday night, the 13,000-plus fans inside the Sprint Center reacted immediately and raucously to its thumping ’80s-disco beat and to the manic energy on stage, much of it coming from the troupe of dancers running about, hoisting large deep-red flags, turning the arena into a pep rally and victory march.
It felt like an encore, yet Swift was only three songs into a show that would last nearly two hours and include a dazzling blizzard of wardrobe changes, gaudy set designs, dancing, fireworks, confetti, lights, videos and other visuals and some well-placed dancing and music interludes that gave the full house and headliner ample room to catch their breaths.
Friday’s show was the first of Swift’s two shows at the Sprint Center. Saturday’s show was a near sell-out, too. The Friday-night crowd was primed from the start. Most were in their seats by 7 p.m. to watch the two openers: Florida Georgia Line, a country duo that will be headlining its own arena tours someday; and singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran, a dynamic one-man band from Britain who owned the place during his 30-minute set. Throughout their sets, fans sang along, waved glow-sticks and brandished signs that conveyed their devotion to the headliner.
When Swift took the stage, to the sound of Lenny Kravitz’s cover of “American Woman,” she detonated a mania that sustained itself even after she’d disappeared through a trap door after the final song of the evening.
Swift has evolved as a live entertainer, and so have her live shows. They are spectacles, meticulously choreographed, at times too much so. Her banter between songs is polished to perfection, and she always seems to know where the cameras are and what she is doing when they are upon her. Her dance moves are safe, but she executes them without looking overmatched by the more dynamic choreography of her dancers, who performed everything from gymnastics to ballet.
The stage changed throughout the night. So did Swift’s wardrobe (nearly a dozen times). But ultimately, the show was about her songs, most of which document her sentiments on the ebb and flow of love and loss. The setlist was dominated by songs from the “Red” album (12 of 16), a risk for most performers. But her fans responded to those as they did to her older songs, like “You Belong With Me,” “Mean” and “Love Story,” which got the loudest sing-along all night.
Swift spent part of the show on a satellite stage, serenading fans at the back of the arena. Sheeran joined her on “Everything Has Changed,” their duet from “Red.” They harmonized nicely. Her songs are so melodic and well-crafted that it’s easy to ignore her lyrical gifts. The songs resonate among young girls and the mothers who bring them because they are confessional and rife with details. “All Too Well” is one of those songs, and she performed it at the piano to a crowd that indulged in its heartache: “Time won’t fly; it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it / After plaid-shirt days and nights when you made me your own / Now you mail back my things, and I walk home alone.”
She followed that with “Love Story” and closed with another “Red” song, “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” a triumphant and emphatic kiss-off to a guy she’d had a hard time getting over. The performance was excessive, relentless and over the top. The crowd roared back the chorus as confetti rained and her dancers bounded about the stage. It was the perfect finale, but on this night, it felt as joyous or emotional as nearly every song that preceded it.