RALEIGH — At 23, Taylor Swift is not the hormonally buffeted teen she was in 2006, when her debut single, Tim McGraw, launched her career toward its currently Alpine heights. While Swift still appeals to the teen- and tween set, many of the 14,000 fans in sold-out PNC Arena on Friday have grown with her from adolescence to adulthood.
The songs from Swifts current album, Red, which composed 11 songs of the 16-song set, reflect her maturity while still obsessing over romance, disappointment and the pursuit of dreams. T-Swizzle made the point early, entering to Guess Whos American Woman in lieu of Tom Pettys American Girl, which opened her 2011 Speak Now tour.
The two-hour show was a theatrical tour de force. It featured dancers, drummers, acrobats, backup singers, costume and scene changes, deus ex machina delights, and a horseshoe stage extending into the audience, allowing Swift to connect intimately with her fans.
From start to end, the six-time Grammy winner was brilliant, engaging, and in complete control. And without a single twerk, Taylor was, refreshingly, the anti-Miley.
Red was the color of the night. Swift told her fans the color expresses her emotional extremes the crazy emotions symbolized by bright, burning red. She wore glittering red dresses and red sequined shoes, played a sparkling red guitar and performed to red-dressed fans immersed in the arenas red decor of the Hurricanes/Wolfpack team colors. As good as Swift gave, the audience gave back.
One of the shows highlights featured home movies of Swift at various ages, from toddler to now, that led into the anthemic 22. As the crowd sang along, Swift was carried to the back of the arena. There, she performed a four-song set, including a duet with talented opening act Ed Sheeran on Everything Has Changed, a track from the Red album. A caged platform ferried her above the crowd back to the front, as she performed Sparks Fly.
During I Knew You Were Trouble, Swift was accompanied by masked, black-clad dancers with choreography that would have made the late Bob Fosse proud. The concerts most intimate moment followed with All Too Well. Sitting alone at a (red) piano, Swift shared that she often writes in the wee hours, and she tries to write what she feels. This song, she said, is her memory of what it feels like to experience a sad date.
Judging from the thousands who sang along, the dating game can be a mournful affair, indeed.
The show closed with an extended version of We Are Never Getting Back Together. Dressed in the red sequined jacket of a circus ringmaster, Swift sang defiantly as a cast of court jesters, fairies and stilt-walkers danced and twirled, and red and white confetti poured from overhead. The light-hearted romp was the spectacular ending to a show featuring one of pop musics most gifted, charming and deserving icons.