Sunday, June 19, 2011

Swiftly Speaking...

Taylor Swift: Speak Now Tour, Heinz Field, 
Pittsburgh PA June 18th 2011

There is much to say about Taylor Swift’s triumphant show at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. One could mention that this U-shaped venue (home of the beloved Steelers) looks out past the scoreboard over The Point, the place where two mighty rivers meet to form the Ohio, and that on a rosy-golden summer evening, this afford those in the upper decks an exquisite view of the sparkling lights of downtown reflected in the waters as the sun goes down.

One could mention that for concert set-ups such as this (the stage situated at the scoreboard end), the venue holds 52,000 people. One could note that all 52,000 of those people (except for the stricken-looking silent dude sitting next to me who appeared frozen in horror at being surrounded by that many screaming tween girls — had he been dragged there against his will by an unforgiving wife? Was this a court-ordered punishment? Who knows?) turned the stadium into a gem shop of flashing and glistening lights from the glow sticks and cameras they were wielding, so much so that it almost competed with the spectacular light show of the concert itself (including perfectly timed fireworks and glitter cannons).

One could debate the ratio of female-to-male attendees (The Inky Jukebox guesses about 300-1) or their average age (13?) or the various merits of eye-catching fan adoration (groups of girls wearing day-glo t-shirts emblazoned with painted-on lyrics V. day-glo poster board signs), or the approximate decibel level these girls are capable of producing (a jet plane flew overhead at one point, silently).

What The Inky Jukebox most wants to say, however, is that what impressed us was that even though a great deal of care and attention had gone into making her look gorgeous (and her willow frame can carry off all of those costumes with aplomb) and sound great (top-notch backing band and sound engineering), she was willing to become bedraggled by the intensity of her performance and could give a damn about the odd flat note. This is a girl so supremely confident that she rises above all that glamour to deliver a heartfelt two-hour set absolutely packed full of passion. You sit there thinking “ah – this is what all the fuss is about.”

Say what you will about Taylor Swift the media darling or faux-coquette; not many among us (or among her peers) would be willing to sit under a plastic tree amid the audience in the center of the stadium completely by herself, and play her guitar (or ukulele) and sing, unaccompanied while the band takes a breather. It’s a supremely vulnerable position to place oneself in, not simply because one’s singing chops have nowhere to hide, but that the emotion of the event could threaten to make you slip up in any number of ways: forget the lyrics; ramble on ad-libbing; lose your train of thought; or just burst into tears. Swift did none of those things, despite maintaining that down-to-earth exposure. It did look as though she would shed a tear or two at several times during the evening, but mostly because she was so engaged in the songs.

Clearly she is the consummate performer with a great deal of experience already behind her at 21. Whether it is truly genuine or merely a well-practiced gesture, when Swift tells the crowd she loves them, they believe her, and it feels, at least, like she’s delivering a personal address. She has the gift of appearing overawed at her fame, something that we hope does not get lost along the way.

Newspaper reviews will tell you that the crowd was appreciative and loud, and which songs she sang. The Inky Jukebox can tell you that the set list consisted of (nearly) all the songs off her Speak Now album, plus some of her huge hits. It is a measure of her success that a two-hour show could not contain them all. We were pleased to see “Fifteen” and “Love Story” saved for the encore, and that she delivered “Back To December” while playing a grand piano that like much of the theatrics, arose suddenly in a plume of light and smoke from a trapdoor in the stage.

At many concerts, the singer will have the audience cheer or sing some of the words, and often enough, they get a rather feeble or garbled response. At this concert, however, when asked, the crowd was only too happy to deliver the rest of the song both clearly and at thunderous volume.

Like many folks, The Inky Jukebox got tickets as a birthday gift for a little girl. It was her very first concert experience, and she was blown away. When asked what her favorite part was, she thought for a minute and settled on “all of it.” Then she returned the question. To which the reply, after careful consideration, was the same. 

Folks leaving Heinz Field, post-show. Those stadium lights are bright as daylight. 

All photos by The Inky Jukebox

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