After a surprisingly slow, acoustic, almost background music-like set from her support act Vance Joy, Taylor Swift took to the stage to the tune of 15,000 screaming fans at Manchester Arena. Before the show, a sort of unspoken competitiveness had descended on the arena as the most dedicated and over-excited audience members (including myself) eyed up one another’s efforts to attract the attention of Queen Tay and her assistants in the hope of gaining a pass to the most prestigious meet-and-greet in the industry, Loft ’89. The Taylor Swift cult of all things sparkly and feline was certainly evident in the choice of outfits, poster slogans and the use of fairylights as a standard accessory. This lit up every corner of the arena and, with the addition of light up bracelets for everyone, created the feel of an illumination show rather than a pop concert.
The setlist consisted almost exclusively of songs from Swift’s 8.6 million-selling album 1989, which made for a wholly energetic and upbeat occasion. The opening tracks, ‘Welcome to New York’ and ‘New Romantics’, were performed against a backdrop of Broadway-style signs and bright lights, while the mysterious ‘I Know Places’ saw dancers push doors on wheels around the stage in some curious version of musical chairs. Taylor was more or less drowned out by the audience in the uber catchy ‘Blank Space’, and the super cool ‘Style’ crept up on us after one of the interlude videos of her famous pals’ sharing stories from a normal catch up with the queen of pop.
A few of her older hits made an appearance, though: a dark, almost haunting version of the 2012 single ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ saw Swift hit some of the lowest notes in her range as she gave a refreshing, improvised take on the pop/dubstep track. ‘Love Story’ (taken from her second studio album Fearless, way back when she was a cowboy boot-wearing 19 year old living in Nashville, the home of country music) was given a new lease of life with a 1989-style revamp, consisting of looped backing vocals and cool synths, but managed to maintain the emotion and heart which had made it so popular originally. Swift acquired an electric guitar for an almost unrecognisable rendition of, arguably, her first step into the world of pop ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’. Strong power chords and crashing percussion combined with flashing red images of angry looks on the screens behind the stage gave the light-hearted single a rock-edge, but didn’t stop the crowd singing along. Here the only two remaining members of Swift’s original backing band, guitarist Paul Sidoti and bassist Amos Heller, were in their element.
The show ended as it had begun: in an explosion of lights, glitter and dancers for the infectious ‘Shake It Off’, encapsulating the late-80’s feel Swift had aimed for in her latest album. Taylor thanked the “wonderful” Manchester audience, bowed with her band members and dancers, and with that she was gone. It felt like the end of Christmas Day.
Words by Frankie Vera