The Lucky One

Taylor Swift’s Erwin Center circus proves her worth

Taylor Swift at the Frank Erwin Center, 5.21.13
Taylor Swift at the Frank Erwin Center, 5.21.13 (by Gary Miller)

With the music industry moving further and further into carbonated, diva-rave blowouts, Taylor Swift makes a lot of sense. At 23, the native Pennsylvanian has a back catalog of sad-girl ballads, a legion of fans, and an ever-documented private life. As last night’s sold-out Erwin Center proved, there’s a need for someone like her in arenas.

None of that should imply that Swift isn’t a pop singer. She’s the pop-up singer of the moment. And fresh from Houston on a four-date Texas leg on her Red Tour, Swift arrived back lit by the silhouette of a massive, glowing, Marlene Dietrich-like projection of her face.

Slinking down a staircase, blazing red microphone in hand, she walked out onto an oval-shaped catwalk that stretched deep into the gut of the crowd. Then commenced “State of Grace,” a sparkling U2 homage and the first track from last year’s powerful Red. Afterward, the screams of thousands of women echod around the walls for a good, long minute. Swift allowed herself a small smile before continuing.

The singer didn’t sit on a stool with a guitar until the final third of her two-hour performance. Before that rolled a jazzy, vaguely burlesque interpretation of world-conquering single “You Belong With Me,” fame-is-hard slow-jam “The Lucky One” (complete with paparazzi backup dancers), and a romping, dance party parade for “22” that made its way all the way to the back of the arena.

This wasn’t a small operation after all, and any lingering idea that Swift’s a coffee shop performer on a big stage should be permanently crushed. She’s molded herself into a big-tent star – dancers, costume changes, theatrical set-ups, and plenty of stage left and stage right. Britney and Gaga should be looking over their shoulders.

Even then, Swift’s far more magnetic in the spotlight, slashing her way through choreography like a young Madonna. The driest part of the performance occurred with she isolated herself as a solo act, nodding through “Begin Again” and “Everything Has Changed” (with opener Ed Sheeran). She’s a tremendous bandleader who thrives on tension. With every nod and tease, you can sense her savoring the build. The best theatre of the evening came from a particularly stormy piano pounding through micro opera “All Too Well.” Swift bleeds drama.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” remains one for the ages. A cavalcade of playhouse, razor wire wit, and generalized euphoria, it represents everything good about pop music. It was delivered in a literal circus. Stilts, clowns, fireworks, and confetti surrounded Swift, the bow-tied ringleader. After that, no encore was needed and none delivered.

Don’t believe the shy-girl legacy. Taylor Swift’s waited her entire short life to be in the center of everything. Nobody can say she doesn’t deserve it.

For images from Taylor Swift’s Austin concert, see the Chronicle's Photo Galleries page.

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Taylor Swift, Madonna, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran

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