If there is such an artistic contrivance as an “intimate extravaganza,” Taylor Swift has perfected it.
Her concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena Thursday night (Sept. 19) — the first of three sold-out shows there — was a masterful blend of Cirque du Soleil and Nashville’s Bluebird Café.
Aided by an array of giant TV screens that magnified her every gesture and a gift for eye contact that would put Garth Brooks to shame, Swift was alternately in your face and declaiming to you from the Mount Olympus-high staircase that was the centerpiece of her stage set.
She even brought out Luke Bryan for a duet. No half measures for this gal.
This being her Red tour, there were bursts of scarlet everywhere throughout the production, from her red lipstick, shoes, costumes, guitars and microphone to the mesmerizing lighting.
She told the crowd she had chosen to end the American leg of her tour in Nashville because it was home to her. And she returned to the Nashville theme again and again, turning the crowd into a family reunion.
And what a crowd it was. Lots of kids, most of them brandishing light sticks and cellphones or else waving signs that proclaimed their bottomless devotion to the artful star.
Swift’s part of the show — Casey James and Ed Sheeran opened for her — didn’t start until 8:45 p.m.. So by the time it closed at around 10:45, a few of the youngest tots were dozing in their seats.
“This is the seventh time I’ve played here,” Swift told the crowd. “Thanks for coming back, guys. I’ve missed you terribly.”
The mechanics alone were worth the price of the ticket. Drummers would shoot into the air still drumming, balconies appear where there had been none before and seemingly solid runways and stages would rise and pivot to eye-popping effect.
And there were dancers everywhere, prancing out the theme of whatever hit Swift was singing.
Dancers flourishing red flags underscored Swift’s rendering of “Red.” For “The Lucky One,” the stage became an old-time theater marquee with black-and-white footage of Swift acting out an emotional quandary.
Some of the dancers for this number dressed in reporter’s hats and trench coats and waved clunky Speed Graphic cameras. It was a tad overdone but visually arresting nonetheless.
“This is quite the view I have here.” Swift said from the top of her grand staircase. Then she descended, carrying a banjo.
She moved to center stage and began talking about how, as a sometimes bullied child, she assumed life would be simpler and smoother when she grew up.
“I somehow thought as human beings you’d grow out of being mean,” she said.
Not so, she lamented.
“People are going to be awful to you at one time or another.”
This gloomy prelude, of course, led into her singing “Mean” as she plucked the banjo and a merry-go-round whirled in the background.
By way of introducing “22,” there were film clips of Swift performing at various ages.
For several songs and production numbers, Swift and some of her crew retreated to a second stage — actually a performing platform — at the opposite end of the arena.
There, wearing a Grand Ole Opry T-shirt, she sat on a stool with her guitar and sang the tune she wrote for her ninth-grade talent show, “Our Song.” It would go on to become her first No. 1 single.
Sheeran then joined her to sing “Everything Has Changed.”
When she began to sing “Begin Again,” the platform slowly rose high above the crowd while back on the main stage there was a giant projection of the Eiffel Tower, complete with a blinking light. Still aloft, she stepped into a basket that slowly carried her in a curving and dipping pattern back to the main stage while she was singing “Sparks Fly.”
“You must have known I wasn’t going to show up without a surprise for you,” she teased the crowd. After dropping a few hints, she announced the surprise was Luke Bryan.
He appeared at the top of the grand staircase in jeans, T-shirt and baseball cap, looking more like a stagehand than star.
After he walked carefully down the stairs — it would have been a hard fall — he smacked hands with Swift, and they joined voices to belt out his hit “I Don’t Want This Night to End.”
“Luke Bryan flew across the country to spend his only free day with us,” Swift told the cheering throng.
The backdrop turned into a cathedral and Swift donned a bridal gown for “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
A few minutes later, clad in a black gown, she ascended the staircase and seated herself at a grand piano to chat with the audience about the process of songwriting before bending into “All Too Well.”
There were ballet dancers for “Love Story,” high-wire graphics for “Treacherous.” Then came the finale — “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” — set to a circus theme with stilt-walkers in white tuxedos and Swift dressed as a ringmaster.
As the production number continued, confetti rained downed on the crowd. Then everyone rose to go home with virtually every sense saturated by the spectacle.
Before the concert got underway, Swift met with reporters and friends at a private reception.
Big Machine Label Group chief Scott Borchetta presented her with six plaques: for 4 million sales of the single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”; for 4 million sales of “I Knew You Were Trouble”; for the vocal event of the year nominee “Highway Don’t Care” with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban; for the platinum certification of the single “Begin Again”; for 6 million sales worldwide of the album Red and for 4 million total album sales to date in England alone.