After an hour and a half and two opening acts — one-man-electric-acoustic-guitar band Ed Sheeran and country rockers Florida Georgia Line — Taylor Swift hit the stage Tuesday night at the sold-out Erwin Center to the ear-deafening sound of young girls screaming.
They came dressed in red, Swift’s new album title and signature color. They held flashing signs of favorite songs or love notes to Swift. They came chaperoned mostly by moms, with the occasional dad. Some high school and college-age fans came as big groups, but dressed to the nines in outfits reminiscent of Swift videos. The occasional boyfriend also showed up.
For a full two hours, Swift entertained, with elaborate sets, quick costume changes, fireworks and theatrical staging. “The Lucky One” started with a Hollywood movie screener and then transformed into a paparazzi red carpet scene. “22” felt like she could have been on the set of “Grease,” with everyone dressed in late 1950s-early 1960s attire. “I Knew You Were Trouble” turned into a masquerade ball in the rockingest number of the night. Then there was the romance and ballet dancers of “Love Story,” the circus of “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and the carousel of “Mean.” The audience never knew what would happen next — confetti flying through the air? Puffs of smoke? Fireworks?
Swift made use of multiple platforms from the staircase in the center of the stage that became a raised platform, to the thrust stage that raised to serve as a faux tight rope. She also was carried by her dancers to the back of the floor section to a new platform that rose and spun around slowly, to a small platform that let her soar back to the main stage while letting the fans in the nosebleeds get a closer look.
It was over-the-top and her fans loved it, especially as she got closer and closer to them.
Swift opened with three songs from her new album, “Red”: “State of Grace,” with fireworks, “Holy Ground” with red flags and sparks flying, and “Red,” which came after an explanation about why the color red was significant. It was everywhere from the staging to glittery red guitars to almost every outfit. “It’s the one color that represents the songs I’ve been writing about lately…” she explained. “The beautiful amazing, ‘Hello, nice to meet you. Let’s fall in love.’ … then the sad, tragic goodbye.”
Swift took long pauses, teared up when she looked at the audience, gave her shocked look that anyone would come to see her. “You showed up looking kind of amazing,” she said. Then, she pointed out the girls with white lights in their skirts, or the ones painted head-to-toe red, or with lyrics on their arms or especially made T-shirts and signs. “Leave it to Austin, Texas, to bring the spirit,” she said.
She then acknowledged her reputation. “I write lots of songs about my feelings,” she said. “I have a feeling that 12,000 of you have opted in to hear songs about my feelings for the next two hours.”
Swift talked to the young girls in the audience before singing “Mean.” “I couldn’t wait to grow up,” she said. “I thought when you grow up no one picked on you. I thought you outgrew meanness. It’s not true. … It’s really about how you choose to deal with it. I choose to deal with it by writing songs.”
Midway through the show, Swift, at the back of the arena, slowed things down with a song dedicated to the tornado victims in Oklahoma. “Right next door in Oklahoma, they’re going through a lot to say the least,” she began. “I think they would appreciate 12,000 people praying for them.” She then began “Safe & Sound,” from “The Hunger Games” soundtrack.
Opening act, Sheeran, joined her on stage for their duet, “Everything has Changed.” Then, she sat on a red stool for the slow ballad about love rekindled, “Begin Again.”
Enough quiet. Time to hop onto a lighted platform for “Starlight” and slowly make her way back to the stage to finish the night out with “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “All Too Well” — when she rocked out on a red piano — “Love Story” and “Treacherous,” until finally ending with “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” sung by Swift and 12,000 fans.
As the crowd dispersed, vendors handed out Diet Coke, a Red Tour sponsor. Maybe they should have handed out earplugs before the show, because the sound of that many screaming girls, who will be exhausted Wednesday morning, left a ring in many an ear.