Two years ago, Taylor Swift played what she referred to as “the infamous rain show” at Gillette Stadium, when a downpour couldn’t deter her or the fans who came out to see her. Friday night, the first of two sold-out shows, threatened a repeat of that evening, but the precipitation, when it came, was light enough to endure and never lasted too long. The focus, it turned out, would be on the spectacle on stage instead of the weather.
And there was spectacle aplenty, with dancers waving red flags, fireworks, drummers that rose and sank in the air like pistons, and plenty of costume changes (one of which, from a Cinderella-style dress to a black hot pants/bustier combo, occurred onstage right in the middle of “I Knew You Were Trouble”). With the exception of the mandolin, banjo, and fiddle filling out “Mean,” there were few vestiges of Swift’s country origins. The singer was there to deliver a pop concert, pure and simple.
That’s something Swift’s becoming very good at. She showed off an increasing confidence, spinning and strutting during “Holy Ground” like someone relishing the taste of freedom. More crucially, she was no longer gawking in disbelief at the applause directed her way, as she used to. Instead, she simply drank it in.
The other thing she was notorious for, her singing, was slightly iffier. Her voice was reedy in the extreme, so that even when she was on pitch, it could sound like she was struggling. She also had a curious problem maintaining a consistent volume, as every now and then her vocals would suddenly pop louder for a syllable or two for no apparent reason.
But the swinging bounce of “You Belong With Me,” marvelously done as a girl-group number in the style of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire,” was a quite forgiving vehicle for her voice, and the grandiose thump of “All Too Well” and the pealing, Coldplay-esque throb of “State Of Grace” bolstered her in a way that the solo acoustic “Should’ve Said No” — where her petulant delivery only served to undercut the lyrics — couldn’t do.
And credit Swift for canny hookcraft: If there’s anything that can cover up a singer’s vocal flaws, real or perceived, it’s 50,000 people singing along to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
One of Swift’s three openers was singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran, whose heavy, earnest acoustic strumming was energetic and spirited, even if his rapping was a little clumsy (though enthusiastic nonetheless).