SAVANNAH, Ga. — It was the night the lights went out in Georgia, but that didn’t stop Taylor Swift from playing a rare headlining show at Savannah Civic Center on Friday night (Aug. 15). An underground explosion a few hours before the sold-out show killed electricity throughout the downtown area, but thanks to a generator, the production went on as planned, just a few minutes behind schedule. But if the venue could have somehow harnessed all the excitement from the shrieking pre-teen and teenage girls, the city — and probably the whole state — would never have a power shortage ever again.
Swift has spent most of her performing career as an opening act, either for Brad Paisley or Rascal Flatts. However, the enthusiastic singer-songwriter has proven she can likely sell enough tickets now to headline her own tour. But here’s the bigger question — can she sustain an audience’s enthusiasm for an hour and a half?
With just a handful of upgrades in her tour production, I’d have to say yes. She can be forgiven for the no-frills setup on this date since it was just a one-off before meeting up with the Rascal Flatts tour on the following night. The gray, curvy backdrop on stage looked like it was chosen from a prom catalog, and the stage lighting didn’t venture far beyond what you’d see at a really good beauty pageant. The sound seemed fine once I moved toward the middle of the venue, but when I was in the front taking pictures, all I could hear was, “EEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!” “Taaaaaaaaaaaaaylor!!!”
Usually at the big shows, there’s a photo pit where I can take a few dozen shots during the first two songs before going back to my seat, which is usually off to the side. For this concert, the young women in front were already poised on the edge of their seats, ready to pounce. Among the first three rows, I saw only four guys. Nothing was stopping these girls from rushing the stage (and the photographers) the instant the lights dropped — which is exactly what happened. I guess the security guards simply gave up. I would have, too. At the end of two songs, I couldn’t take a half-step to my right or my left, backwards or forwards. Luckily, I was the tallest person around, so the photos turned out, but I don’t even remember what song she sang first, since I was primarily in survival mode.
The second song was “Our Song.” It’s an odd choice to put so early in the set since it’s her biggest hit so far (six weeks at No. 1), but it kept the decibel level at fever pitch. Shortly after that, she performed “Teardrops on My Guitar,” which calmed everybody down a little bit since the tempo isn’t quite as frantic. She also took a moment to talk about how a TV special about Faith Hill inspired her to chase her dreams.
About halfway through the show, she pulled out a ukulele and sang a handful of new songs, like “Why Would You Walk Away.” (She mentioned that her new album is coming on Nov. 11, which naturally elicited some screams.) At this point, she was just sitting there, strumming and singing, with a band member picking along on the mandolin. That’s always a tough thing to do, especially with a new song, but the room grew quiet as she sang. But as soon as she’d lean over to shake hands, the wireless headset mike picked up every last shriek.
Following a quick costume change, she pumped up the volume with “Should’ve Said No” and banged on some barrels for a while. Surprisingly, “Mary’s Song” earned a huge response as well although it was never a single. And naturally, the opening lines of “Tim McGraw,” about putting those Georgia stars to shame, brought a wave of cheers from all the locals. Who would have thought such a simple song would have led to all this?
Prior to singing “Change,” which is being featured in the Olympics coverage (and available on iTunes, as she was quick to remind everybody), Swift said she wrote the song “because you can’t control what happens to you in life, but you can get over it and you can get past it and move on.” Later she told us we make her life worthwhile, which brought about the expected reaction. The crowd, as you can imagine, was easily milked.
The good news is her voice was strong, which isn’t always the case in her televised performances. “Picture to Burn” featured pretty much the only special effects of the night — animated flames flickering at the bottom of the big hi-definition screen. Her band also managed to fit in a few licks of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” a very odd choice, but they did a good job with it. At festivals, that bluegrass staple will always get the crowd revved up. Swift’s crowd, on the other hand, didn’t need any assistance at all.
Before the show, a local radio personality declared, “Isn’t it great to have a show that you can bring the whole family to?” That was an interesting thing to say because mostly I saw only mothers and daughters, and if I had a few kids, I wouldn’t be reluctant to take them to see Keith Urban or Sugarland. In country music, there are only a handful of entertainers I’d avoid for the sake of my family, mostly because I wouldn’t want my kids to constantly listen to it in the minivan.
The opening act was called Love and Theft — three handsome guys from Nashville, three acoustic guitars and a brief set list. I don’t remember much about their music, but I was astonished to see the venue was already packed, despite the traffic jams and power outage. I guess you can’t stop Swift’s fan base from hearing their song, or “Our Song,” just as long as they can hear over all the screaming.