Taylor Swift - Jobing.com Arena, Glendale - 5/28/2013
Taylor Swift (See the complete slideshow here.)
All photos by Andrew Pielage
Jobing.com Arena, Glendale
May 28, 2013
First, you'll notice the makeup -- you'll notice, more generally, the feeling of being underdressed in the company of 9-year-olds. All around Westgate, which feels itself like a mock downtown, a big occasion to play-act at sophistication, you'll notice 9- to 13-year-old girls standing up straight (even though they're taller than their older brothers), and making small talk and eye contact, and buying concessions with borrowed credit cards. Being polite, but adult-polite, totally composed, charming, weirdly.
Then you'll notice the signs. They're covered in marker and LED lights; they mention every single and a couple of deep cuts. And when her set actually starts, they're waved from every part of Jobing.com Arena by very patient (and secretly very happy) moms.
Then there's the screaming and the glitter. "There might be glitter on your seat," the nearest mom told me, when I sat down. Fair enough: There was glitter everywhere. It was a Taylor Swift show.
Glitter aside, I've never been to a more expensive-looking concert -- this has more in common with a big Andrew Lloyd Webber blowout than any other super-superstar's live show.
Each song had its own costumes (for Swift and a team of impossibly clean-cut dancers), its own big, practical effect (a music box filled with dancers dressed as wind-up toys, a flying saucer that carried her from one stage to the other, a runway that lifted off the ground so that her dancers could file underneath it), and its own perfectly coordinated lightshow, coordinated between multiple jumbotrons and an inexhaustible supply of fireworks and confetti.
There were floating drummers and slow-motion dubstep fight scenes and a couple of big, demure costumes that could transform, when the chorus hit, into tiny take-no-prisoners costumes. At the center of all of it there was Taylor Swift, hitting all her marks and pointing and singing right at the camera.
Her command of the stage is the last thing you'll notice -- and once you catch it, you'll realize all her fans in red lipstick and child-sized cowboy boots understood it intuitively way before you did. She's totally in control, and she takes advantage of it. She does it modestly, of course -- she thanked every group of super-fans in turn, by section -- but firmly. Every one of those huge stageshows is an extended parable about her movement from vulnerability to authority.
And all of them were turned out impeccably. The whole show is choreographed to the word, from the pensive sitting-on-a-stool-with-a-banjo interlude about bullies being something you have to deal with and not something you outgrow to a truly bonkers, significantly dubsteppier version of "I Knew You Were Trouble," which opened with a solitary violinist dancing around in kneepads before growing into a slow-motion dance-fight scene between Swift (in a big, breakaway dress) and a series of guys in English manor house garb and masquerade masks.
As rehearsed as it clearly is, it all sounds very earnest and extemporaneous in the moment -- her affect is a little reminiscent of a perky youth minister at Sunday School, with jokes and references everybody in the room understands funneling into lessons about self-esteem and hard work. (At least, it sounds earnest and extemporaneous until each mini-lecture ends with the title of the song she's about to sing.)