Almost four years ago to the day, I saw Taylor Swift kick off her very first headlining tour. Coincidentally, it was in Indiana at the Roberts Municipal Stadium in Evansville. Since then I've attended every additional tour—some more than once, six total. So I know what to expect from Swift. That was until the night of Friday, April 26.
Swift brought her Red Tour to a completely sold-out Bankers Life Fieldhouse full of screaming teen girls, country boys, middle-aged mothers, and boyfriends trying their hardest to not act impressed while accompanying their girlfriends. After opening the show with the same tune that opens her Red album, “State of Grace,” she let it all out on the edgier “Holy Ground.” Toward the end of the song, Swift looked like a rock star, her long blonde locks flying everywhere as she and her band performed an elaborate hand-drum solo on huge luminous canisters that rose from the stage—some thrust into the air with performers attached to them. She came out swingin', literally.
Swift picked up on the crowd’s enthusiasm: "I've played lots of shows in Indiana," she said. "You're always dazzling, but I think you've really outdone yourselves tonight."
Halfway through the set, I found myself thinking it was Swift who had truly outdone herself. Just when I think she has peaked, the singer-songwriter continues to step up her proverbial game. I went in poised to see another concert full of Swift's newest material masterfully crafted and funneled into the realm of a variety show. Instead, I got a show that could easily keep up with Broadway. Each of the 17 performed songs, 12 from Red, was partnered with high-octane musical-esque skits. From professional ballet dancers to on-stage costume changes, from Swift's home movies to fireworks, fans got their money’s worth. At one point the stage broke apart and Swift scaled a five-feet-wide slab of it, 10 feet off the ground—all while singing her risky love track, “Treacherous.”
Eventually, Swift made her way through the crowd to a smaller stage in the center of the arena. This is a Taylor tradition; she’s been doing it since she started headlining. It’s just her and her acoustic guitar with a chance to play whatever she wants. Indy got an acoustic version of her multi-platinum hit, “Mine"—a Red Tour first—and a duet with opener Ed Sheeran on their song “Everything Has Changed.” What's more, Swift challenged her fear of heights again, as the small stage slowly spun and lifted her high above the crowd without any cage support.
The show had no encore and didn’t need one. Approaching the end, Swift’s red-haired fiddle player walked solo onto the stage, and the show hit another level. She aggressively played a dark, energetic intro that eventually led into the smash hit “I Knew You Were Trouble." The song struck a chord in two security guards—grown men, mind you—who danced as if they were off work. And if you strolled downtown around 10:30 p.m. on this night, and felt the ground shake, it was the sold-out contingent at Bankers Life Fieldhouse singing at the top of its lungs to Swift’s final song, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
With her red microphone, red shoes, red guitar, red outfits, bright red lipstick, and red stage lights, fans were forced to see the color that Swift touted as being the key element combining all her feelings, feelings about which she's obviously quite open. As gallons of confetti fell and the band waved goodbye, I realized Swift isn’t the girl you read about in the gossip magazines. She’s a young professional who takes her career seriously. For the past seven years, this 23-year-old kid has shown up every night to give everything she has to her fans, encouraging them with many positive messages. If you wonder where all her money goes, I suggest you see her live. Swift comfortably controlled this Indy arena with the same grace a veteran rock star would harbor. Indeed, she is becoming that vet.
When I attend Taylor Swift concerts, I make conversation with the adults sitting around me. And I always ask if they enjoyed the show. On Friday, I received a remark worth writing down: "Taylor has never let my daughter down. ... All her good deeds are what came from her sad songs. That’s powerful to me. That’s independence and confidence.”
I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been a Taylor Swift supporter since the release of her very first single. How does this happen to a 25-year-old male who loves indie rock and alternative music? I respect the fact that she always writes her own material, and just her gift for simply-crafted gems that can resonate with anyone. In the mainstream world, I believe she is my generation’s saving grace and the younger generation’s hope.
Photos by Tony Valainis