Taylor Swift’s Red Tour Elevates Her Game

She Performed First of Two St. Louis Shows on Monday

ST. LOUIS — Hauling a fleet of buses and trucks, Taylor Swift is putting the country on Red alert. The superstar’s Red tour stopped at the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis on Monday night (March 18) for the first of two nights there.

In most concert reviews, I am reluctant to give away any special effects, in order to allow an element of surprise on future tour stops. If I didn’t mention them in relation to Swift’s tour, though, this would be a very short story.

Of course, Swift’s digital presentation is pretty cool. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to look — at the giant screens or at the singer. Yet where Swift stands apart is her ability to incorporate dozens (if not hundreds) of props into her presentation. It’s sort of like watching a school musical directed by the world’s most creative drama teacher … like, ever.

As on past tours, Swift relied on her newest album for a bulk of the set list, and as a result, several of the early, more familiar songs that made her a star were brushed aside.

But not all of them. She gave “You Belong With Me” a 1950s girl group spin, like something you’d hear from the Taylorettes or the Swiftelles. Plus, “Love Story” is a crowd favorite and still lights up the kids. She also honored a Facebook request for “Should’ve Said No,” but not before chastising undisciplined cheaters. It wouldn’t be a Taylor Swift concert without talking about those darn boys, even when you’re really happy with them (as she is on “Stay”).

Switching gears, it’s staggering how many people she employs on the road. Her co-stars never stood still long enough for me to count them all, but there were at least 20 people onstage at various points. Kudos to the choreographer and the lighting crew who made sure Swift and her dance company were in step at every twist.

For being so early in the tour, everything seemed very polished. She told us how St. Louis is one of her favorite places, that we really outdid ourselves and we must be very creative, too, after she saw so many signs in the audience. She also incorporated the Red theme into a St. Louis Cardinals reference — which caused a lot of screaming.

When it comes to connecting with an audience (even the signature “Hi, I’m Taylor”), Swift is a pro. On this go-round, she finds a way to sing for the fans way at the back of the venue that only a trusting singer could do. She also takes a cue from Tina Turner’s most iconic tour tricks.

With every production, Swift elevates her game, and the Red tour is no exception. She is a gifted entertainer — equally appealing when she’s strumming solo acoustic guitar or frolicking with jesters and man-sized bunnies.

Much of Swift’s Red tour involves bringing the new album’s songs to life in endless detail. And it’s dazzling much of the time, especially her visions for “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together.” Meanwhile her quiet country single, “Begin Again,” was beautifully understated — a rarity in the grand production.

Earlier in the evening, country newcomer Brett Eldredge played a brief set. (The Red tour will feature a revolving cast of country newcomers throughout the year.) That segment was followed by British pop star Ed Sheeran, who solicited the crowd to sing along with him. For the first few minutes, he kept asking us all to holler back, “Hell yeah!” — and the children’s choir populating the arena joyfully complied. The crowd applauded his breakthrough hit, “The A Team.”

Swift’s legions of fans don’t need to be convinced to buy tickets to this tour. But if you’re a casual fan who gets a big kick out of lavish productions, pop culture and one of the most capable backing bands on the road, then you should definitely be there when Swift paints your town Red.