So after the recent Mogwai and Faith No More gigs at the Roundhouse, it was time for a full-on superstar gig. We had bought the tickets as a Christmas present for my daughter and it has long been a red letter day in her calendar.
I must admit I went with zero preconceptions. Not really listening to the radio these days, my main exposure to Taylor was what I had heard coming from my daughter’s bedroom. I knew she has a country background but the majority of the music that I have heard is from the last few albums . The music wasn’t “turn on your heels and walk out bad” by any stretch of the imagination but none of it really sunk in beyond the obvious efficiency.
At least that’s what I thought.
But I was wrong – the show was relentlessly catchy with lots of “oh – I know this one” moments. It was immaculately staged. Very cleverly, it regularly used a walkway which elevated and rotated. Given the relative youthful audience, this helped give everyone a better view. There were multiple costume changes with talking head interviews from her showbiz friends whilst this was going on. She even ended up with Caroline Wozniacki, Cara Delevingne and Serena Williams on stage.
Rather tellingly though, it didn’t break up the pace of the show (Hello Kanye) and gave everyone an opportunity to catch their breath. She really was excellent. The songs are melodically hooky, effortlessly memorable when given attention and the production adds a contemporary sensibility onto the material. It isn’t saccharine by any stretch of the imagination. She didn’t resort to the old show business routine of cover versions and no song overstayed its welcome. It was mostly uptempo which helped and the lighter in air power ballads were kept to a minimum. I actually would have enjoyed some of the more Country and Western influenced material.
What did come across very clearly was Taylor’s stagecraft. She knows her audience and there was plenty of empowering monologues which I’m sure are appealing to her hardcore fans. But it was the more intimate stuff that really stood out – there were well timed sly winks which introduced a nice intimacy in the face of 65,000 people.
The monologues stay just about on the right side of female empowerment, at times moving a little close to identifying being in a relationship being “a really important thing” (my words, not hers). She is canny about her reference points and touchstones. She namedrops eighties movies in similar to the way that Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys name dropped Frank Spencer, thirty odd years after “Some Mothers Do Ave Em” was made.
All in all, it was a really enjoyable evening. The crowd obviously love both Taylor and her music. They were there for the concert, not to chat, pose or text.
Where does she go next? Well, it is obvious that she can handle the new princess of pop crown with ease. Multiple genres don’t phase her. A couple of rocky tracks and some more dance-orientated material were handled with aplomb. There’s two directions to try without too much thinking. She (and her management) are also savvy enough to know where their bread is buttered. None of the outfits were even approaching slutty and there was no trash talking. If Taylor ever heads back to the more conservative Nashville mainstream, she will be welcomed with open arms.
So it’s up to her really. The Apple streaming saga shows her current clout in the industry, although the photographer controversy suggests that she isn’t quite the altruistic artist’s champion that she may be currently lauded as.
But as the father of a pre-teen daughter, there are far worse musicians that she could admire. And as a dyed in the wool music fan, Taylor is a very talented artist.
She will be worth keeping an eye on for a good while yet.
Oh – and my daughter had the time of her life.
1) Welcome to New York
2) New Romantics
3) Blank Space
4) I Knew You Were Trouble
5) I Wish You Would
6) How You Get the Girl
7) I Know Places
8) All You Had to Do Was Stay
9) You Are in Love
11) Love Story
12) Bad Blood
13) We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
15) Wildest Dreams (contains an element of “Enchanted”)
16) Out of the Woods
17) Shake It Off