Taylor Swift

Review by Jennie Book
Photos courtesy TAS Rights Management

Atmosphere, performance, personality, set design, fans, talent. Music.

I made a list to help narrow focus on how to write about night one of the Taylor Swift concert at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara California on July 28th, 2023. The list will help, and these photos shared from TAS Rights Management will give you an idea of feel and scope and wonder, but if you want the real deal, you’ve got to go and become one of the 70,000 fans dancing and singing together because there aren’t words that come close to touching it.

Crowds started entering Levi’s at 4:30, and first opener Gracie Abrams began her set at 6:25. The fans were in full dressed up fanciness with their blinding sequins in the sunlight, friendship bracelets spanning wrist to elbow, and homemade jackets with favorite lyrics and albums bubble-fabricked onto denim. HAIM took the stage after Gracie, and Taylor’s favorite band got the crowd singing while the moon came up over the south end of Levi’s and the stadium dropped into shadow. After HAIM, the pre-show recorded music played, and as Lady Gaga’s “Applause” crushed our ears the energy surged because everyone knew that meant Taylor would make an appearance soon. Then the countdown clock started its descent to “Midnight” on the giant stage screen and fans began to collectively lose their minds.

Dancers began the show by parading slowly down the catwalk holding massive billowy kites above them, “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” boomed, and fans craned necks and screamed to see Taylor, who finally appeared at the end of their line. The Eras Tour was off.

Over three hours, Taylor broke her 45-song set into “Eras” and played favorites from albums Lover, Evermore, Fearless, Reputation, Speak Now, Red, Folklore, 1989, and Midnights. At each tour stop she plays two surprise songs, and tonight’s were “Right Where You Left Me” with Aaron Dressner of The National on guitar, the two of them spotlit in the middle of the stadium at the end of the stage, and “Castles Crumbling,” its live debut, with Taylor solo on piano at the end of the stage.

Atmosphere, performance, personality, set design, fans, talent. Music.

Taylor is one of a kind. She’s talented, full of personality, writes personal songs that people relate to, has fans that would follow her to the moon (or Milan, or Tokyo, or anywhere she’s yet to go on this worldwide tour,) and she’s humble. And this is why after playing “Champagne Problems,” the crowd started to yell and applaud and they didn’t stop. For maybe four minutes the stadium echoed in extended applause, like a Palm d’Or ovation at Cannes, and we all watched Taylor on the jumbotron look touched and surprised and mouth “What is going on?” as fans showed their love the best way they could in an arena. She was grateful and she said so, and that, in addition to a hundred other reasons, is why her fans love her.

Throughout the night the set design was ever-changing, thoughtful, and gorgeous. The projected 3D imagery coupled with the live elements on stage set a distinct mood for each album era and was better than the most elaborate Broadway show. From the billowy kite entrance to the giant tree trunk projected with a real moss-covered piano in front of it to the hot pyro and fireworks at the end of the night, the stage production was an extravaganza, and if the equivalent to an Oscar exists for stage design, this team deserves to win it.

Taylor’s music is both personal and fully relatable, and falls into the sweet spot that makes fans love her and think she’s talking to them and for them. In the crowd were daughters, mothers, grandmas, dads, boys, influencers, Mark Zuckerberg, and each person there likely felt that Taylor Swift knows them. She knows how they feel. I’ve never seen so many people throwing up hands in the crowd, calling out to a singer as they got close, hoping to be acknowledged. They feel like they know her because of her feelings and her words, and it’s a special gift to be able to tap into the collective human spirit like that. To connect on that level with the world.

I’ve seen a lot of singers and bands perform in my life. Some are straight ahead musicians, no crowd banter, just singing and playing and no interaction with fans. Then there are the storytellers who allow for special moments and connection. Taylor’s in that camp, and is another reason why her fans adore her. From saying “Are you ready to go back to high school with me?” before kicking off “You Belong With Me” and launching a nostalgia explosion, to talking to the crowd about how she’d been practicing surprise song number one “Right Where You Left Me” for six weeks and hadn’t gotten it right yet and then didn’t get it right again but laughed it off and finished it strong, to getting what looked teary-eyed during “Long Live,” to talking about what songwriting was like during the pandemic for her and writing from the point of view of characters James and Betty (“Betty,”) and the crowd loved it all.

And even though it’s Taylor who we yell for and sing along with, boy is her team huge and a big part of her success. From the crew breaking down and building sets in every new city, to the business office running her affairs (including an exceptionally excellent PR team,) to the costumers designing and dressing her dancers, to those same dancers who looked like they were having a fantastically fun experience on stage, to whoever created those neon-rimmed bicycles being ridden around, to the semi-truck drivers who’ll cart those rigs and sets from town to town, to the families whose loved ones are on the road for an extended period of time – what an operation. A full corporation, an empire that includes atmosphere, performance, personality, set design, fans, talent, and most of all music. And the Taylor Swift fans of the world and anyone who loves a great live show are forever enriched for it.