10 Nov 2018

REVIEW: Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium

From RNZ Music, 9:00 am on 10 November 2018

Samuel Flynn Scott of The Phoenix Foundation may have been the oldest person at Taylor Swift’s Mt Smart concert who wasn’t with their kids, but he was “straight-up loving it”.

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium Photo: Daniel Lee Photography

There’s so much Taylor Swift swirling in my head tonight that I’m just bursting with excitement for her show.

For one thing, it’s her first concert since the US mid-terms.

If you were hiding under a rock for the last month, you may not know that T-Swiz recently broke her long-held political silence. She outed herself as a Democrat by endorsing the Democratic candidates for the House and the Senate in her adopted home state of Tennessee.

For an artist who’s come up through the more conservative Nashville music scene, this is no small thing. According to pollsters, it had a massive effect on voter registration, especially among young first-time voters.

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium Photo: Daniel Lee Photography

Tay Tay’s Senate pick, Phil Bredesen failed to win his seat, but the Republican’s winning margin was way slimmer than it usually is in the deeply red state of Tennessee. She clearly made an impact and I was super intrigued as to whether she would say anything about it last night (spoiler alert: she didn’t). 

There’s a lot of other things I’m intrigued about. First off, her silly looking Russian Antonov plane that brought her staging to our shores... does she call it Jack? (Dad joke explainer: her Reputation co-producer was Jack Antonoff) Did she really weigh in on New Zealand’s hottest topic by taking a Lime scooter for a spin around Mission Bay?

The setup here in Mt Smart stadium looks INSANE. It looks so out-of-proportion to reality that it feels like I’m about to watch fictional cartoon metal band Dethklok. I sure hope this concert doesn’t start World War Three like Dethklok’s middle east gig did in season three of Metalocalypse

But Swifty isn’t a fictional death metal band, she is, according to legend, a country singer. Of course, her music isn’t country at all anymore. Her albums 1989 and Reputation are pure pop of the highest order.

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium Photo: Daniel Lee Photography

1989, in particular, had that rarest of pairings: huge hits and critical acclaim. I hadn’t listened to it in a couple of years, but revisiting it now, the opening three tracks ‘Welcome To New York’, ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Style’ feel as ingrained into the fabric of society as the opening tracks of U2’s The Joshua Tree. It’s a classic record. 

My big sister Emily, who‘s always loved pop and has pretty much always been right about what’s good, made me watch a bunch of older Swift hits last Christmas. ‘Romeo And Juliet’ and ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ should have been like poison to my ears, but I loved them.

They’re like Love Actually. Not the songs from Love Actually, but the film itself: on the surface, they’re maybe a bit saccharine, but as they evolve, you’d have to be an alien not to get swept away in the grand gestures and soaring emotion.

I like to tell my friends that Love Actually is my favourite film because it is my favourite film, but also because it seems to annoy them. Today I googled “Taylor Swift Love Actually” and discovered it is HER FAVOURITE FILM TOO!!

This is extremely troubling news. Are we soul mates? Have we entered the upside down where sandwiches eat people? Will this concert be as wonderful in the rain as Hugh Grant’s hair?

Sam in the rain at Mt Smart

Sam in the rain at Mt Smart Photo: Samuel Flynn Scott

Joan Jett’s ‘Bad Reputation’ blurts out of the 300-foot PA and then Taylor erupts onto the stage like a perfectly presented volcano. She smashes through three Reputation bangers in what feels like about 30 seconds. During the second song of the show (‘I Did Something Bad’), there are already fireworks and huge balls of fire bursting into the sky.

The music sounds like it’s coming from a live band, but they are nowhere to be seen. That is until the medley of ‘Style’ (one of the best songs on 1989), ‘Love Story’ (a really short version, but including the insane/fantastic key change bit) and ‘You Belong To Me’, where the giant curved screens peel back at various spots to reveal the ridiculously sharp band rocking out in their weird industrial fortress.

It looks how I imagine Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome would have looked had it been directed by Baz Luhrmann. Oh yeah and then a whole bunch of giant snakes are suddenly on stage. There is always something new and alarming happening on stage. 

Everything about this show is designed to make the audience feel like they are on the inside of Swift’s world. She thanks the band, she thanks her singers, she thanks the people selling rain ponchos and she thanks the audience in long rambling, seemingly unscripted monologues.

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium Photo: Daniel Lee Photography

This is the 51st show of a 53 date mega-tour spanning the globe and she is clearly still having the time of her life up there.

Eventually, it’s time to start flying around the stadium in the ribcage of a snake (as you do), which takes Taylor to two auxiliary stages. First of all, to have a mini dance party/sing-along with support acts Charlie XCX and locals Broods, then to perform solo with an acoustic guitar.

I’m barely six feet away for the solo acoustic set and the people around me are losing their shit. It’s not my favourite part of the show by any means (I mean, other songs have acrobats and flames and synth shredding solos), but it makes an open-air stadium feel small and intimate and also serves as a reminder that Taylor Swift is a singer-songwriter.

Those ubiquitous banging number ones come first from her and a guitar.

Just as the acoustic set is losing its charm, we’re treated to ‘Blank Space’. Possibly the song of the night for me. I’m alone (my buddy has abandoned me mid-gig), I’m soggy from the rain, I feel like I’m possibly the oldest person at this gig who isn’t there to chaperone their kids, and I am just straight up loving it.

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium

Taylor Swift at Mt Smart Stadium Photo: Daniel Lee Photography

Like Love Actually, just when you think it’s peaked, there is actually a whole other ending yet to come. Swift goes on another mega-ramble while vamping away on her piano: “I’m just so glad you all exist,” she declares.

The closing pair of big hits is almost too glorious. ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ (what a hook!) is blasted out for the shortest possible time. This seems to be her trick with the huge old hits, play them all but play them short.

‘We Are Never..’ segues into ‘This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, which just never stops ramping up. Swift is frolicking in a fountain. The stage is morphing into different shapes. The sky is on fire. The entire stadium is flooded with smoke and personalised Tay Tay confetti. The guitarist is wailing like Eddie Van Halen on crack. 

“Bye you guys,” she says as she descends down some magical stairway to the netherworld that has just opened in front of her. And then she’s gone. That, my friends, was a really good gig. 

The rain starts to pour with a vengeance as I wait with fifty thousand other people for a train back into the city. We’re all still wearing the flashing LED wristbands we were given on the way in.

I suddenly realise: millions of people have seen this show in the last year. That means millions of these wristbands blinking away for eternity. Archeologists will uncover hoards of them in two thousand years. 2018, they will declare, was the age of Tay Tay, the great summoner of blinking lights.

Sam's flashing Taylor Swift wristband

Sam's flashing Taylor Swift wristband Photo: Samuel Flynn Scott

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