Scripted Taylor Swift is resplendent in 'Red'

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2013 - 7:39 AM

Review: The 23-year-old pop phenom played to a sold-out house of girl fans.

 A stadium full of Wisconsin Badgers fans, a store full of Target employees and even Dorothy Gale with her ruby red shoes — they’ve got nothing on Taylor Swift.

On Saturday night at sold-out Xcel Energy Center, she had 14,000 concertgoers seeing red and hearing “Red” — her blockbuster 2012 album that is the focus of her current Red Tour.

That meant red lipstick, red fingernails, red rhinestones on the microphone handle, a red gown, a red miniskirt, a red ringmaster jacket, a red guitar, a red fiddle, a red grand piano, and red cowgirl boots, high heels and tennis shoes that Dorothy would kill for — even an opening act and duet partner with red hair. Swift also explained why she was preoccupied with red for this project — something about how it represents the crazy emotions of falling in love and breaking up, the juxtaposition of wonderful and awful.

Swift chatted a lot during Saturday’s 110-minute show, coming across less like a big star and more like the older sister to thousands of young girls (and their moms or dads) in the arena. But she also dazzled her minions with easily the most fully realized production of her three arena tours. The dancing, the outfits, the video screens, the dramatic scenarios, the acoustic segment on a satellite stage and the platform flying over the crowd (as she performed “Sparks Fly”) were red-iculously ­effective.

Never have you seen a more self-aware person in your life. President Obama has nothing on her. And she’s only 23.

Swift was romantic but asexual, opinionated but ­apolitical, sincere but unspontaneous. There was not one move — from the tossing of her hair to the little speeches to her handing out guitar picks to fans — that wasn’t calculated, scripted and choreographed. But the vibe of the “Red” album almost dictated that.

Unlike her first three bestselling country albums, “Red” is perhaps more about sound than songs. Of course, the content and her words matter but this stuff isn’t presented as singer-songwriter material with her old conversational style of singing. This meant her belting out the anthemic, almost U2-evoking “State of Grace,” which opened the concert. This meant the volume of her voice fading in and out on the emphatic rock-screamer “I Knew You Were Trouble.” This meant her voice (which has improved) getting lost in the cacophony and waving of red flags during “Red.”

Swift did 11 of the 16 songs from “Red” — a bold move for a pop star who has seemed to desert her country fan base — and offered only a handful of her earlier material. And the ever-ambitious artist re-imagined her oldies, recasting “You Belong With Me” with a doo-wop meets girl-group vibe (thanks to four female backup singers) or simply delivering them more stripped down, as with the solo acoustic “Tell Me Why” and “Mean,” during which she played banjo.

The fans sang along to the older hits but, in the end, they’ll probably remember the stagey productions — like the sock hop dancers during “22,” the glam-movie star pursued on the red carpet by photographers and reporters during “The Lucky One” and the music-box dancers who came alive during “Love Story” — that never quite seemed connected to the content of the songs. But, that’s OK, because Taylor, no matter how she clicks her heels, isn’t in Nashville anymore.

Set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera

Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719

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