Taylor Swift, Vance Joy
Photo by Tina Haver Currin
PNC Arena, Raleigh
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Hours before Taylor Swift took the stage at a sold-out PNC Arena on Tuesday night
, the parking lot held a party of its own. The white peaks of E-Z Up tents formed a small mountain range, sheltering parents who dished out fruit salad or helped their children put finishing touches on homemade T-shirts. Those old enough to pregame sat in the beds of extended-cab trucks, swigging from brown paper bags and blasting Chase Rice through tinny speakers. On the asphalt, proclamations came in chalk: “We love you Taylor.” “Welcome to Raleigh.” And most frequently, “Thank you for being here.”
Inside the arena, the wait to take a picture on a Taylor Nation backdrop was 56 bedazzled people deep, eclipsing that of both beverage stands and bathrooms. Still, fans scrambled to their seats when Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy took the stage. Joy moved efficiently through a 30-minute set, eliciting a respectable level of shrieks when he played 2013’s career-launcher, “Riptide.”
But it was nothing compared to the sound when Swift’s dozen dancers took the stage. With their noses buried in fictional gossip rags and their backing band obscured by screams, the dancers had to steal glances at each other for cues. Swift was next to emerge (a quiet hat-tip to her lucky number, 13), frozen for a moment at the lip of an extensive catwalk. Stocked with park benches, gas lanterns and hanging bars, the stage was an elaborate playground for the performers, who started flipping, careening, and catapulting during opener “Welcome to New York” and somehow continued for the remainder of the set.
“You know what I love seeing? A sold-out show in Raleigh on a Tuesday night!” Swift gushed toward the end of “Blank Space,” eliciting a roar that might have been heard back in downtown Raleigh, like the State Fair’s nightly fireworks come fall. The gratitude expressed back on the blacktop seemed mutual, as the star politely thanked the audience by saying the word Raleigh as often as possible.
It took more than two hours for Swift to churn through the entirety of 1989, working the catwalk, flirting with cameras and somehow managing 12 costume changes during the quick moments of darkness between each song. The energy was impressive and contagious. Due to sheer size, arena shows often feel like passive spectacles rather than engaging events, but the Swift crew worked the space. Each seat received a synchronized jelly wristband that pulsed in time to the music, setting the audience a-twinkle. The runway extended throughout the entire lower level and then lifted into the air and spun around
, giving Swift the opportunity to interact with people usually forced to find nuance through jumbotron projections.
When the band kicked into the heartbreak-bumper “I Knew You Were Trouble,” 15,000 wristbands turned crimson, bathing the arena in angry red. The dancers dropped their shirts to reveal a multicultural array of chiseled pectorals, and huge jets of steam pulsed and exploded during the chorus.
“Bad Blood” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” saw Swift donning a mostly ceremonial electric guitar and a black leather outfit as pyrotechnics flared in the background. This bit of edge was hardly Miley’s “red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere,” and there were no requests to see any peacock-cocks. But temperance and innocence are part of Swift’s appeal, the exceptionally average—and therefore paradoxically fascinating—way she sets herself apart.
There was no encore Tuesday night, just an extended version of “Shake It Off.” It was the upbeat sayonara to critics and haters, complete with oversized paper airplanes, confetti cannons and enough strobes to warrant a warning at the ticket gate. After a few seconds, even the stone-faced security guards were singing along.
Photo by Tina Haver Currin