Review: On night two in Tampa, Taylor Swift delivers an intense gold rush of literature and live debuts

Move over, 'Moulin Rouge.'

click to enlarge Taylor Swift (L) and Aaron Dessner at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on April 14, 2023. - Photo c/o TAS Rights Management
Photo c/o TAS Rights Management
Taylor Swift (L) and Aaron Dessner at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on April 14, 2023.
I’d be lying if I said that Taylor Swift’s current “Eras” tour has nothing on Broadway shows. The 33-year-old pop icon isn’t the kind of artist who just blindly plays in cities, and makes nothing of her time there.

“I was thinking today about how I played here once on Halloween,” Swift recalled, then going into the singing-“Let it Go”-with-Idina-Menzel-dressed-as-Elsa story. “You guys are just so committed. It honestly sorta looks like it’s Halloween tonight with all the effort you put in.”

And that wasn’t just a kiss-ass comment, either. The capacity crowd of 68,811 at Raymond James Stadium on Friday night was mostly clad in custom regalia that represented their favorite album from the biggest pop singer in the world right now. Guys sporting pink hair and gradient pink and white shirts represented 2019’s Lover, there were plenty of gray or forest green dresses to salute folklore, and I would say about one in four people were rocking sequins or glitter somewhere on their person, just acknowledging their love for Miss Americana. (See a review of night one here)

Following opening sets from singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams—daughter of “Star Trek” director J.J. Abrams—and Filipino-British indie performer beabadoobee—who tore down Jannus Live in November on her own—the massive screen-slash-backstage entryway transformed from the “Eras” tour-themed collage to a clock counting down from two-minutes and 10-seconds. Members of TayTay’s dance troupe—with her backing band on either side of the stage’s wings—came out with parachute-like capes held up by the wind during a segment of “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince,” which Swift—rocking her Lover-colored bodysuit—would perform a verse or two of, upon being revealed by said capes.
As cheesy as it sounds, the Friday night sunset perfectly matched the Lover colors, so that was definitely a bonus backdrop for the “Jailhouse Rock”-esque abstract office setting during “The Man,” and rainbow illuminations on “You Need to Calm Down.” Swift would soon be handed an aqua acoustic guitar for “Lover,” which she opened with a major thank-you on behalf of the entire crew and the opening acts.

After running through “The Archer,” she disappeared as stardust appeared on screens, just to scare the shit out of us when jumping straight into the Fearless era, now sporting a gold-sequined dress with fringe on the bottom, triggering much more twirling on the title track.

“We’re gonna take you back to high school!” Swift declared before ripping into “You Belong With Me,” the only transposed number on the 44-track setlist.

When leaves and melting snow appeared on the screen once she finished “Love Story,” we knew that the evermore era was upon us.

This was when the choreo really got interesting. On the witchy “willow,” dancers dressed in orange dresses and green velvet capes, and after walking out in line, looking down at something a la the “Monty Python” monks, they literally threw around fake fireballs while surrounding their boss, who was given a cape to match those around her.

Swift then sat down at a moss-covered piano and stool, and crooned out “champagne problems,” and was misty-eyed by the end of. But once she was done with the slightly less soft “tolerate it,” a snake flicked its tongue on the screen, and boom: It was 2017 all over again. In almost an instant, the indie evermore kids regenerated into reputation kids as Swift and a few dancers—now dressed in black and red getups—came out and shook their asses on “…Ready for It?”, atop a massive platform that was already in use during the upbeat pop eras.

Digital candles burned onstage during “Don’t Blame Me,” and I don’t think there was a voice in the entire stadium that didn’t recite Swift’s outgoing message on “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Speak Now—which we’re pretty sure is the next installment in the “Taylor’s Version” series—was only acknowledged with “Enchanted,” featuring Swift donning a pink ball gown, and portraying Cinderella-esque mannerisms. Once that era ended, a dancer came onstage with a red tour transporter case, and I don’t think I have to elaborate on which album’s songs were played over the speakers whenever the case opened.

Wearing a black brimmed hat with an “A lot going on at the moment” t-shirt, Swift—occasionally flashing a “33”—and her dancers, launched into “22,” later described as a turning point from the hard time in your life known as being 21 years of age. On the other hand, Swift's already angry vocals on “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” were overshadowed by the crowd, and were almost inaudible. Same went for “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

But she admitted that back when it was still brand new, it pained her to perform “All Too Well.”

“And then, I would sing it with you, and you would sing it back so passionately. It was such an incredibly transformative experience to see that you related to what I was singing,” she recalled. It was transformative enough that Swift was kind enough to present the 10-minute version.

Oh, and speaking of which, don’t worry: Every cut from Red and Fearless was Taylor’s version.

Tampa Bay’s long-awaited encounter with folklore (which, if not for COVID-19, we would have hoped for a few small-for-Swift venue performances of) finally commenced, with Swift laying on the roof of an open cabin for “the 1,” followed by “betty,” introduced with a tale about how she really wanted to write stories about characters.

“Folklore was actually the very first time that I committed to writing songs that weren’t just excruciatingly autobiographical,” she explained. “I was just like, ‘you know what? I’ve been writing about me, me, me, me, me for like, 15 years or something.”

Swift’s current fit looked like an incomplete wedding dress, and her dancers even portrayed wedding attendees on “the last great American dynasty,” and didn’t help her down the steps of the hut once.

Next was the upbeat, radio-dominating 1989-era (“Blank Space,” “Shake It Off”), which closed with “Bad Blood,” accompanied by stadium-wide blasts of fire a few times per chorus. Basically, think about Paul McCartney’s live performances of “Live and Let Die,” but the flames explode in more places than just the stage, and there’s no actual explosion sound. As if it wasn’t humid enough.

The surprise songs segment of the show, featuring two non-setlist regulars, has previously seen extra selections from Speak Now and Swift’s untouched eponymous debut. But while both night two’s surprise selections were off of Midnights—which was a segment away from its own set-closing recognition—Swift decided to make them extra memorable from the foot of the B-stage.

The National’s Aaron Dessner—a songwriting collaborator with Swift since folklore—surprised us and came out with his black acoustic guitar to perform “The Great War,” and later, Swift sat down at a flowery classroom piano for a completely solo rendition of “You’re on Your Own, Kid,” never performed live until that moment.

The ultimate finale began with “Lavender Haze” featuring Swift in a purple, fur-and-fringe jacket. She visited the upper, behind-the-stage wings during “Anti-Hero,” and I don’t know why, but the chair dancing on “Vigilante Shit” seemed to give off major “Chicago” vibes.

Considering how every ounce of choreography was executed in such unison, and how it’s gonna be a hot minute until Tampa sees another stadium show as extravagant as the “Eras” tour, it only made sense to throw in a nod to musicals.

And if there were such a thing as a Broadway stadium, and Swift decided to do some sort of residency, she would undoubtedly dominate the Tonys this summer.

Swift closes out her three-night Tampa stand tonight at 8 p.m.

About The Author

Josh Bradley

Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay. Check the music section in print and online every week for the latest in local live music.
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