Nobody bonds with their audience like Taylor Swift, and on Friday night in South Philadelphia, the 25 year old pop superstar from Wyomissing, Pa. spent more than two hours connecting with 50,000 of her closest fans in the first of back to back sellout shows at Lincoln Financial Field.
This is the tour for 1989, the 2014 album named after the year of her birth that is closing in on selling an astonishing 5 million copies in the U.S. It's completed Swift's trajectory from teenage country singer to unabashed pop artist who's left curly haired precociousness behind and is now finding her way as a young woman on the biggest stage.
To make that theme clear, Swift began her show just a few minutes after 9 p.m. (the Fine Young Cannibal's "She Drives Me Crazy," which, yes, came out in 1989, was the final lead-in music), with "Welcome To New York," the album opener that celebrates reinvention with synth-pop buoyancy. "Everybody here was someone else before," she sang, as she moved about the massive stage with a dozen male dancers lit to appear as if they were stuck in black and white, while the singer alone came of age in living color.
Talking to the over 90% female crowd - ranging from first graders and their mothers to millennial members of Taylor Nation who have grown up with Swift, who released her first single, "Tim McGraw" in 2006 - Swift made much of her roots just down the road in Reading, Pa. "I remember when I was a little kid and my father would watch Eagles games on TV, and I though 'That seems like a really big place.' And here I am, playing a concert in a football stadium.'"
This is actually the third consecutive tour that Swift has played the Linc - no other room is big enough to hold her - and she grows ever more confident in translating her emotionally detailed songs to the most oversized of stages.
The 1989 tour includes all the apparently necessary elements of a stadium tour. There were fireworks, and a runway that extended to the 50 yard line and rose high into the air to give far away fans a better look.
And by my count - and that of the delighted young fans next to me, there were 10 costume changes, with a succession of black, white and red dresses, short shorts and purple skirts, thigh high boots and bodysuits, including a Joan Jett-ish leather outfit for the aggressive new single "Bad Blood." That number was one of the few that felt over choreographed and stilted during the generous spirited, leisurely paced show. Swift swiftly recovered with the following song, a rocked out recasting of her 2012 hit "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" in which she plugged in her electric guitar, and turned up.
Swift, who sang capably all evening, as well as playing keyboards and guitar, served up a pair of surprises. Mid-show, she brought out the Los Angeles family band Echosmith and sang their hit "Cool Kids" with them. And for "Style," the sleek disco flavored 1989 tune that's one of the album's many impressive examples of top-notch song craft (the brilliantly catchy "Blank Space," and delicate "Clean," written with British songwriter Imogen Heap, are two others), she welcomed two of her besties to walk the runway with her: model Cara Delevingne and actress Mariska Hargitay, whose character on Law and Order: SVU Swift named one of her pet cats after.
All of those costume changes were made possible by a between song sequence of black and white clips that aired on three giant video screens. They featured Swift's celebrity friends - Girls star Lena Dunham, model Karlie Kloss, the sisters of pop band Haim (one of whom said of Swift, "she's like the sister I never had," and got side eye from her siblings) - talking about feminism, and love, and what it's really like to hang out with Taylor.
There were too many of the pre-recorded segments, and the show dragged a bit as the evening wore on and chaperones in the crowd wondered: When is she going to do "Shake It Off," already? (It was the final song of the night, with the Linc bouncing along to a dance beat that was synchronized with lights generated by wristbands given out as fans entered as "a gift from Taylor."
But if the tales of Swift's BFF's slowed the momentum, they also underscored the overriding idea: That growing up and making your way in the world is complicated and difficult, and it would be that much harder without music and friendship. And while Swift is famous for writing songs about relationships that didn't work out, she wants you to know she's never ever planning to break up with her fans, whom she prefers to call "friends."
"Music can be the only thing we have that understands us at our low points," the singer said, throwing out a lifeline while floating above the crowd with during an interlude that included a keyboard driven re-arrangement of her happy ending hit "Love Story."
"Maybe you've lost someone you never thought you would.," she went on. "Maybe you've lost yourself, that's the worst." And maybe by listening to the songs of Taylor Swift, you can find your way back.