If you're thinking this Taylor Swift concert review is going to be about how unprepared she is to be a country superstar, then my guess is that you haven't seen her show yet.
I have to report that her super-successful Fearless tour offers one of the most ambitious and entertaining country concerts I've ever seen. My 12-year-old cousin, who lives in Nebraska, had never been to an arena show before, and I was curious to see if Swift's live performance could live up to her expectations. So off we went to the enormous Qwest Center in Omaha on Sunday night (Aug. 9). I'm not sure what I expected, but it definitely wasn't a seamless, two-hour, multi-act, singing-dancing-hugging extravaganza. All that and Kellie Pickler and Gloriana, too. Whew. Am I getting too old for this?
Actually, one surprising element of Swift's show is that her audience isn't comprised of just screaming teenage girls. I saw several grown women in pairs singing along to every word, along with lots of teen guys (admittedly, most with girlfriends). It's naive to think that only young people would care for Swift's music, even though I was guilty of having that perception myself. It's not like I'm going to tape her poster to my bedroom wall when I get back to Nashville, but I have to say that if she nabs a CMA entertainer of the year nomination this fall, I wouldn't be a bit surprised. Actually, I might be a little proud that our little girl is all grown up.
Yes, I know she's taken flak for her vocal performances on TV broadcasts. Sure, she doesn't belt it out like Pickler or rely on complex arrangements like Gloriana. Instead, she's from the singer-songwriter mold, where the message is just as important as the music.
As a grown man, it's true that her message can seem a little difficult to relate to, especially when songs are about the "best first date ever." At such moments, I'd roll my eyes, then look over at the kids next to me and think, "OK, I get it." That sort of epiphany happens a lot at a Taylor Swift show. I understand where she's coming from, even though I don't burn pictures of my ex's and don't write songs about them if they hurt my feelings. I don't remember who I had a crush on when I studied in the library, and my life lessons stretch beyond this little Swift nugget: "In real life, the bad guy is always really, really cute."
I also think this is the only concert I've attended where the person next to me whipped her hair in my face. More than once, thank you very much.
Swift's show is a lot of fun. It moves fast, rarely pausing to milk it for all it's worth. However, after "Hey Stephen," the shrieking was so loud and so long -- about two minutes' worth -- that Swift had to adjust her ear monitors. "Oh, my God!" she exclaimed, and the crowd instantly hushed as though the Queen of England was about to speak. Then she continued, "I'm never going to forget that you did that for me." And, of course, more screaming.
OK, now what about the music? It wasn't always note-for-note perfection, but she's singing live -- a trait you can't necessarily take for granted in all musical genres. Actually, every artist on the bill enjoyed some of the cleanest audio mixes I've encountered on the road. Swift's band is outstanding and apparently always game for role-playing. (I quit counting the costumes changes right around the time of the Renaissance dancers.)
Like Brad Paisley, Swift is savvy when it comes to mixed media, with lots of video and interactive components to prevent any lulls. The only boring part for me was when she magically appeared in a far corner of the arena for a song, then hugged everybody -- and I do mean everybody -- in her path back to the stage. However, for the fans back there, I'm sure it was the highlight of their evening.
Even though Swift isn't in my regular musical rotation, I have somehow retained the lyrics to "Our Song," "Teardrops on My Guitar," "Should've Said No," "Tim McGraw" and "White Horse." I have to give her songwriting props for that, too.
If you're a parent dreading a Swift concert because you'd rather be seeing Alan Jackson or George Strait, don't worry. Try to get there early to see the opening acts. Pickler is more confident than I've ever seen her, and since her set is pretty short, she doesn't pad it with a lot of banter or cover songs. And she doesn't cry after "I Wonder" anymore, an indication that her confidence is growing. With fresh-faced singers and engaging harmonies, Gloriana will definitely appeal to teens as well as the older contingent of country fans. They're about to add a bass player and a drummer, but for now it's just them -- and they're making the most of an exceptional opportunity by greeting fans with quick handshakes and autograph sessions at the merchandise table.
Since this was my cousin's first concert, I asked for her opinion on a couple of things, but she answered every question with, "Oh, that was awesome." Fair enough. I have to agree with her on the big finale, which I won't spoil for the people who haven't seen the tour yet. Since it was my cousin's first concert, she can say it's the best one she's ever seen. I have a feeling, though, that she'll be standing by that opinion for years to come.