Self-empowerment Theme Distinguishes Taylor Swift Concert at the Q

Concert Review

Before Taylor Swift's concert even started, the mood in the sold-out Quicken Loans Arena was jubilant — from the security guards dancing wildly to pre-show music to the fans wandering around the venue wearing TS-themed cheerleader outfits and holding homemade light-up signs. Naturally, the atmosphere turned even more celebratory (and the screams of joy pitched up several notches) when the two-hour show began a little after 8:30 p.m. The opener: Swift's ode to new beginnings and wondrous life experiences, "Welcome To New York." See a slideshow of the photos here

The lithe star and her posse of sunglasses-wearing, chiseled male dancers strutted confidently around the stage; in addition, Swift ventured out alone onto a venue-long catwalk to greet the crowd and unleash some dancing-alone-in-a-bedroom-in-front-of-a-mirror moves. Neon signs featuring NYC landmarks and replica park benches added to the big city vibe. The significance of both her solo maneuver and her expanded stage presence was clear: Swift was a bold, confident, carefree woman in charge of her music and life.

That self-empowerment theme ran through the two-hour set, from Swift's conspiratorial pep talks/monologues (during which she encouraged fans to remember they're "not the opinion of someone else" and "not damaged goods") to songs such as the standout "New Romantics" and "All You Had To Do Was Stay," during which dancers artfully kept a no-good beau away from the musician. She also espoused the values of female friendship via interstitial videos featuring of her famous pals — Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, Haim and Cara Delevingne — along with her long-time best pal Abigail. Despite these clips, for the most part the night's pacing was seamless and brisk (especially considering the amount of different outfits Swift into which she changed, including a La Femme Nikita-like leather outfit and a light-up dress).

As with most Swift tours, the night's song choices skewed heavily toward her latest album, which in this case is the shiny pop juggernaut 1989. The layered, keyboard-heavy music naturally led to a far bigger explosion of sound, one which de-emphasized her band members in favor of stage spectacle (although Swift did make sure to shout out her long-time guitarist, Cleveland's own Paul Sidoti). This wasn't necessarily a bad thing: Swift has settled into her role as global popstar quite easily, and seemed to feel rather at ease taking center stage as a performer first, musician second.

Highlights such as "Style," which found her strutting down the runway in a silvery leotard as her blue suit-clad dancers skated around her, and the '80s teen movie-inspired, whimsical retro gem "I Wish You Would," were transcendent, while "How You Get The Girl" lived up to its romantic premise by incorporating both fanciful umbrellas and digitized footage of rain droplets. The time she spent suspended above the crowd on a raised catwalk, first playing acoustic guitar on "You Are In Love" and then singing "Clean," also hit the mark.

Even more impressive, Swift reinvented several of her older songs to fit in with the tour's vibe. She strapped on an electric guitar to enliven and rough up "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," reinterpreted "Love Story" with a keyboard and thumping beats (making it resemble Ms Mr more than anything) and transformed "I Knew You Were Trouble" into a sultry, dramatic slow burn complete with red lights, pounding drums and muscular shirtless dancers. The latter performance more than anything indicated Swift's sophistication, and willingness to evolve her sound and perspective despite it perhaps being more outre than her previous work, which is ultimately what made the show a delight. Even her mom (who was seen walking around during the concert) had a satisfied smile on her face when spotted, obviously proud of her daughter's accomplishments.

Australian Vance Joy had the unenviable job of playing before Swift. Thankfully, the affable, moptopped guitarist and songwriter was a pleasant opener. He frequently seemed awed by the 15,000 people in front of him, and compensated with self-effacing banter and smart musical gestures (e.g., a cover of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me") to keep the audience engaged. Luckily, his earnest, folky music connected just fine; standouts included "Wasted Time," "Yes Is Mine" and the set-ending tropical breeze "Riptide."

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