Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara
July 29, 2023
Photos by Raymond Ahner
I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not really a Taylor Swift fan. Outside of her biggest hits and her most recent album, last year’s Midnights, I hadn’t heard much of her work. However, given all of the hype around her Eras Tour (from the positives of economic growth to the negatives of the Ticketmaster presale debacle), I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go. Also, given the fact that Santa Clara was temporarily renamed Swiftie Clara for the day, how could my interest not be piqued?
What began with a giant countdown on the screen behind the stage set to “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore soon turned into an evening of extravagance, with multiple men carrying large plumed feathers emerging onstage to a huge cheer from the audience. Then Taylor Swift herself emerged in the middle of the stage from a hydraulic platform. The noise from the crowd went from a huge cheer to a deafening roar as she began singing the chorus of “Miss America & The Heartbreak Prince” from her album Lover, the first of ten eras celebrated during the show.
To give a recap of everything that happened during the show would be an exercise in futility. At a little over three hours long, it was one of the longest shows that I’ve ever seen, with Taylor and her band performing 45 songs. Two of the things that impressed me the most during the entirety of the set was Swift’s willingness to not only have her band visible at all times, with half of them on either side of the stage, but also including the guitarists and her bassist in the show’s choreography, especially during the Lover and Fearless eras.
However, the biggest thing that impressed me was Taylor Swift’s stamina during the entire evening. From the synchronized dancing of the entirety of the Reputation and 1989 eras to having to repeatedly engaging with the ever-changing stage show (like the office building of “The Man” or the séance-like procession of “Willow”), Swift never let up or showed signs of fatigue in both her body and her voice. Of course there were less bombastic moments of the show: singing “the 1” while lying on top of a cottage during the beginning of the folklore era, or singing an emotional performance of “champagne problems” while playing the piano during the evermore era, the latter of which resulted in a nearly three-minute long standing ovation from the crowd.
Something that always interests me is how an artist or band is going to incorporate their most recent material in a new tour or setlist. The way that Taylor Swift has decided to present this tour, with each album/era getting its own dedicated section, allows for her to not have to worry about how material from her three most recent albums, all generally more somber and introspective works, could potentially clash with songs like “Shake It Off” and “…Ready For It?” It also allows the fans to know that, regardless of which album/era they might like the most, Taylor is guaranteed to play some songs from it. And believe me, given how the audience reacted, you would think that every song was their favorite.
I tend to not go to large stadium and arena shows, but Taylor and her crew made sure to give everyone in attendance, both close to the stage and up in the nosebleeds, their money’s worth. If you were up close, of course you got the experience of a more immediate experience, but for those far away from the stage, that was where the overblown stage production came in. From the extended walkway turning into a moving chessboard, a guitar, cracked ice, and even Taylor herself swimming underneath it at various points throughout the show, it felt like Taylor and her team wanted this show to feel like just as much of a musical theater experience as a live concert. Props like artificial trees, tables, office buildings, and an entire cabin appeared onstage seemingly out of nowhere, driving the point home. There was a truly interactive element of the show as well, as wristbands that were given out to the audience would light up in correspondence with the stage lighting of certain songs.
The show closed with a two-song set of acoustic surprise songs, the first being “Stay Stay Stay” from Red, getting its first live performance in a decade. The second was the live debut of “All Of The Girls You Loved Before” from the More Lover Chapter EP. Following that was the final era, for Taylor’s most recent album, the synth-washed Midnights. While the more downbeat “Lavender Haze” opened the set, songs like “Anti-Hero” and “Vigilante Shit” whipped the crowd back up into a frenzy, the latter’s choreography reminding me of the “Cellblock Tango” scene from the film Chicago. The show closed with an extended version of “Karma,” which saw Swift and her team of dancers bringing the show to a dizzying conclusion complete with fireworks being let off behind the stage and confetti shooting over the crowd.
All I can say is one word: “wow.” From the choreography to the visuals to Taylor’s voice and (most of all) her energy, I left the show incredibly impressed. Like I said, I tend to not go to very many huge shows, but you could tell that there was thought and effort put into every aspect of the show. While the show may not have converted me into a Swiftie, I did leave with a new-found respect for Taylor and her artistry. And if the show had that effect on me, someone who had never given her music that much of a chance, I can’t imagine how special of a show it was for people who are diehard fans. Now if only I could get “Shake It Off” out of my head…
Opening the evening was Gracie Abrams, whose voice is an emotional powerhouse. During the course of her too-short set, Gracie and her band played five songs from her most recent album and her EP Minor to a very responsive crowd. I just wish that she had played more; despite seemingly starting early, her set was just over twenty minutes.
Following her was HAIM, comprised of sisters Danielle, Alana, and Este. Although they played for a bit longer than Abrams had, I personally felt that the two should have been switched: while the crowd seemed to prefer HAIM, I found their set to be lacking in variety as it went along, with each song blending into the next.
Here’s a slideshow with more photos of Taylor Swift, Gracie Adams, and Haim by Raymond Ahner: