Glendale Swift City, AZ — In the five years since her last tour, Taylor Swift has released four albums and, according to her banter during the show, six re-recorded albums, with Red and Fearless already released and the remaining four presumably forthcoming. Her tour kick off at State Farm Stadium, with support from Paramore and Gayle, wasn’t just a concert but an immersive experience. Is there any other artist whose opening night would have Variety posting song-by-song tour updates on Twitter?
It is hard to put this in perspective, but think of the biggest artist you can and they arguably could not touch the massive scale and grandeur of this show. To put it more directly, Taylor Swift is the biggest artist in the world right now. No one can touch where she is at this point in her career. While it was a night celebrating the various eras of her career, Swift spent the night honoring her massive fan base, using wristbands given to everyone in attendance to not only light up every corner of the show, but to put a mini spotlight on every one of her fans.
Take a moment and remember where you were or consider where you’ll be at 18. If you’re Nashville-by-way-of-Plano, Texas singer Gayle, you are stepping out onto a massive stage, both literal and figurative, in front of 70,000 people on the opening night of the most highly anticipated tour in several years – perhaps decades – and performing with a confidence that artists a decade older only wish they could possess. She opened with the punk-beat driven “Everybody Hates Me,” and her set covered the various singles she’s released since 2020 and included a blistering cover of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” She closed her set with her latest single, the anthemic “abcdefu.” Mark it down now: Gayle is going to be huge some day. Her set was nothing but a preview of that because while she may have been opening the show last night, someday that stage will be hers.
To scan the dates on this tour, across the board, Swift has a murder’s row of openers, including Haim, Phoebe Bridgers, Beabadoobee, Muna, and Girl in Red. Glendale was blessed to get Paramore, making the evening an unofficial Nashville celebration between Gayle, Paramore, and Taylor Swift, as all three were born of Music City. They opened their set with “This is Why,” “Hard Times,” and “This is What You Get,” with singer Hayley Williams moving all around the massive stage and down the runway that extended well-past what would be the 50-yard line if the stadium was set up for a football game.
Stopping before the next song, Williams spoke about the honor of opening for Swift on this tour. “We’re here tonight to celebrate Taylor, but we’re also here to celebrate… Vampires?” With that, the band launched into their song “Decode” written for Twilight. Afterwards Williams told a story about meeting a woman in Nashville many years before who told her about her daughter who was getting into music; the daughter who turned out to be Taylor Swift. Williams had her number for years and finally reached out to her following the now-notorious MTV Video Music Awards incident in 2009.
During the band’s performance of “The Only Exception,” the audience used their cell phones to light up the stadium in a spontaneous and gorgeous moment. They followed it up with “Still Into You” and “Rose-Colored Boy.” Williams made her way down the catwalk once more, before stopping and turning to the band. “Let’s play that one song we said we’d never play again”, she instructed the band. “You know the one”, she added before they played “Misery Business.” With that, Williams thanked the audience and reminded everyone that we were all there together to celebrate Taylor Swift. They closed their set with “Ain’t It Fun.” As Paramore exited the stage, the massive screen switched to a tour graphic of a collage of Swift’s various eras.
While tours can start anywhere, it felt like Glendale had an honor bestowed upon them by Swift choosing it as the kick off for this tour: her first tour in nearly five years (her Reputation Stadium Tour ran from May to November in 2018) and her first live performance since she played the City of Lover album release concert in Paris on September 9, 2019. There was not one person out of the 70,000 people in attendance who took for granted how special these moments were. While many people took the break between Paramore and Swift to try to rush to the merch stand (which was practically decimated by the end of the show) to snag a tour shirt or the sweet tour poster that was exclusive to the opening night, when the graphic switched from the collage to a two-minute countdown, accompanied by a giant clock approaching midnight, everyone rushed back to their seats.
The cheers started with the countdown and grew louder and louder with each passing second. When the timer hit zero, the clock struck midnight, and the stage went briefly black, there was a roar that likely eclipsed any the stadium had heard before, even at the Super Bowl – which the stadium hosted just a little over a month ago. Individually appearing, various rooms hinting at the different eras of Taylor Swift’s career filled the screen. As each room materialized, the audience recognized it with a pop of excitement before it floated away, making way for the next one, providing a tantalizing glimpse into the evolution of her music.
Finally, a large door in the center of the stage rolled up, pouring out white light, and from it came a parade of Swift’s dancers covered by a large sails swooped over their bodies that they then each unfurled, one by one, into giant peacock-like tails. As they moved in cadence to the center of the massive catwalk, they encircled a portion of the stage, collapsing in the sails for a moment before pulling back to reveal Taylor on an ascending riser as she went into the first song of the tour: “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” from Lover. This was her first live performance of the song – in fact, her set included 12 songs making their live debuts.
Though some might argue this point, Taylor Swift is the biggest artist in the world right now. She has moved into a rarified position of success that places here alongside luminaries such as Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, and Beyoncé; artists whose tours will sell out the moment tickets are available, and artists whose tours are more than just live performances of their catalogs but something more akin to a cultural event. “I just want to welcome everyone to the Eras Tour,” she greeted the crowd after her performance of “Cruel Summer” from the Lover era portion of the show. “We are going on an adventure, one era at a time, across the 17 years that I’ve been making music,” she told the crowd. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making it here tonight,” she added, acknowledging the effort fans went to to get tickets to the show. Demand was so high that this night ended up being the opening night of the tour, after tonight’s show on March 18th sold out so fast that she added last night’s show.
Though it is difficult to process this, primarily because she seems so forever young, Taylor has been releasing albums for 17 years now, and the tour is called the “Eras Tour” because across those 17 years are distinct eras of her career. If you want to talk about the company she keeps, how many artists have had a career so long and so successful that it can be defined by distinct eras of the career? That would be Madonna, Bowie, and Prince, but beyond that, though, there are no others that immediately come to mind. “I’ll be your host this evening. My name’s Taylor.”
Even if she had simply built the tour around playing songs from each album, from each era, it would have been an incredible concert experience, but her stage show cannot be understated. It was the most singularly impressive stage show, perhaps ever. Every aspect of it was designed to add depth and nuance to the performance of each show. From the massive screen that projected visually stunning videos to accompany each song to the catwalk that was so long and so wide it felt like an airplane could have safely landed upon it. In fact, as she heaped praise on everyone involved with the production of the show, she regularly mentioned the crew, who deserved a moment to take a bow themselves, as the show featured multiple massive set pieces and some of the quickest costume changes any artist has pulled off without missing a beat in the show.
Of the many impressive set pieces, during the Evermore era, an exquisite grand piano, covered in moss rose up from the stage in front of a grandiose willow tree onscreen. As Swift took a seat at the piano to perform “Marjorie,” and even her microphone at the piano looked like it was a part of a tree branch, fashioned into a microphone. What other artists have that attention to detail? “We have so much to catch up on,” she said to the crowd after the song faded. In the five years since her last tour, Taylor has released four records, which in itself is an impressive feat to marvel, and three of the first four eras covered during the concert spotlighted some of those albums: Lover, Evermore, Reputation, and re-recorded versions of Red and Fearless, with many of the songs making their live debuts.
For “Tolerate It” a full dining room table was brought out the video behind it projecting an impossibly long dining room descending deep into a vanishing point of blackness, emphasizing the distance between Taylor and a lover in a quickly-fading relationship. She sang at one of her dancers, standing in for this disengaged boyfriend, as he looked everywhere but at her. She sang at him, crawling across the table in an aggressive plea to get his attention. Her show is made up of so many living music videos. Next up was the Reputation era, with electric performances of “…Ready for It?,” “Delicate,” “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Look What You Made Me Do,” before a brief stop in the Speak Now era for “Enchanted.”
Though there was no point of the show that lacked for even a second in vibrancy and emotion, the Red era was nonetheless a highlight of the show, with even Taylor acknowledging how special it was, “You might be able to tell by the aggressive color blocking, but we are now in the Red era,” she told the crowd after “I Knew You Were Trouble.” She also made light of her re-recording of it as a part of her “Taylor’s Version” series of albums, as she reclaims her early albums that in effect had been stolen for her. “I’d like to play one more song from it, if you have 10 minutes to spare.” The mention of “10 minutes” made clear what was coming, as she closed out this era with a gorgeous solo performance of the new 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” from the “Taylor’s Version” of Red. Though it would be hard to pinpoint exactly, it felt like a pinnacle emotional moment for Swift and every person in attendance.
Though this show was described by Hayley Williams as “a celebration of Taylor,” Swift used it in many ways to celebrate her fans who have loved and supported her across those 17 years. A recent Forbes article identified her fanbase as being “mostly” white female millennials, but to look around the 70,000 fans packed into State Farm last night, you realize truly what makes Taylor’s appeal so special: it isn’t just one thing. Just before her performance of “All Too Well,” she took a moment to greet the crowd, saying “Welcome all my guys and gals and non-binary pals,” which elicited a huge cheer from the crowd. Her shows have potentially the most-inclusive audience in music at the moment. Everyone felt equally represented and equally welcome at the Eras Tour. From those white, female millennials to every gender, race, nationality, orientation, and so on. Spotted in the crowd, at one point was a tattooed man with a sparkly, sequined shirt that said “This Hardcore Dad 💓Taylor Swift,” as he walked to his seat with his wife and children.
It was indeed a celebration of Taylor but most definitely a celebration of the fans. To understand the relationship she has with her fans, as one fan put it, “Taylor manages to communicate and really connect with her fanbase on such a personal level, making her one of the most relatable and inspirational artists of our generation.” These sentiments were felt and echoed from every corner of State Farm Stadium.
During the Folklore era, Taylor told the crowd about starting to write the album “about 2 seconds into the pandemic,” and treated the writing process like a living journal of her life and experiences during that time. My albums have been excruciatingly autobiographical, she added with a laugh, before the more serious acknowledgement that this often meant her work was “dissected like a live public autopsy,” being minded for details about her personal life.
Her Folklore era was performed on one of the night’s most impressive set pieces: a full cabin that she performed in, around, and on top of throughout the songs from that album. She performed “Invisible String” while sitting on the roof of the house, like a woman staring at the stars and contemplating life. After coming down to the second story of the cabin (yes, it had an up and downstairs), she told the crowd about how she’s spent her career trying to teach men how to apologize in one of the funnier but true moments of the show. “If they’d only listen, I have laid out for them in three minutes exactly how to do it,” before her performance of “Betty.”
The 1989 era had some of the biggest dance numbers of the night. Of the many people who deserve a mountain of credit, Taylor’s dancers brought an extra kick of life to each song throughout that era. It should be noted at this point that she had well past the two-hour mark of the evening and had played 30-plus songs of her catalog, ranging from the hits to some deep, deep cuts, with all gracefully appreciated by the crowd who sang along and cheered every number. In this stretch of the show, even the most-recently converted Swifties were singing and dancing along to “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood,” which was accompanied by fire bursts from different points in the arena adding a shot of warmth felt by all.
Never one to stick to a particular style or tone, she followed the adrenaline kick of the upbeat 1989 bangers with two solo acoustic numbers. With the dancers off the stage, she pulled on her acoustic guitar and told the crowd that on each stop of the tour, she intended to play a different song during this portion of the show, so that each crowd got something special. The tour kick off Glendale crowd were treated to a beautiful take on “Mirrorball” from Folklore. She followed it up with her sole song from her 2006 self-titled debut “Tim McGraw.”
Afterwards, in one of the most impressive moments in an evening full of them, the sounds of incoming flood waters poured from the speakers around the stadium, growing louder and closer with each wave. Taylor, with a brief worried moment on her face, said, “Uh-oh,” and dove forward, disappearing on the stage. An aerial camera ran the length of the catwalk showing Taylor “swimming” beneath the incoming flood waters. On the big screen were images of tidal waves crashing down on the stage and signaling the final era of the evening: the Midnights era.
As this was the kick off of the tour, the seven songs making up this era were all making their live debuts. It also brought back her impressive array of dancers who went for it on every song with joy spread across their faces. As the show surpassed the three hour mark and passed 40 songs, Swift, the dancers, and her backing band showed no lack of energy and enthusiasm, as they ripped through “Lavender Haze,” “Anti-Hero,” “Midnight Rain,” “Vigilante Shit,” “Bejeweled,” and “Mastermind.” At 42 songs, she asked the crowd, “Do you have time for one more?” The cheers indicated that of course they all did, and honestly would have stayed all night if she just wanted to finish performing the rest of her discography that she hadn’t gotten to yet. She closed out the evening with “Karma” and took a final bow with the dancers before finally exiting the stage.
Taylor Swift has had a 17-year career and still somehow feels like she has not yet reached her apex mountain. Even some of the most successful artists had their time in the spotlight come and go in less than 17 years and have moved into the legacy point of their career, but not Taylor. She is firmly in the conversation for biggest artists of all time. She is truly, firmly in rare company in the history of pop music across all eras. This is her moment and yet it is still just the next era of her career. No doubt, she still has yet to peak and will for sure some day play another Eras Tour to celebrate the next 17 years. The crowd at State Farm Stadium will line up for those tickets too for sure. She might have to add a third night for it.
One thought on “REVIEW: Taylor Swift Kicks Off Hotly-Anticipated Eras Tour at State Farm Stadium (03-17-23)”
Wow, sounds like an amazing show. Thanks for giving me insight on what it would be like to be there. Superb article!