Taylor Swift’s U.S. leg of her The 1989 World Tour rolled into Minute Maid Park — complete with back-up singers, a 10-piece band and about a dozen talented dancers. Originally scheduled for October 13, the concert was moved to Wednesday night to accommodate the Astros' anticipated (hopefully not jinxing them) playoff dates. Playing to a sold-out audience of 45,000, primarily pre-teen and teenage girls, part of the fun was eyeing the many costumes — why so many tutus? — and the signs, some in lighted letters spelling "STYLE."
Seeing Swift perform is both a familiar and new experience. Familiar because many of us have watched her grow up and feel like she is our daughter, friend or crush. But each concert delights in different ways as Swift matures and raises the bar musically and creatively.
Having seen this same concert in Salt Lake City last weekend, as well as Swift's previous Houston concerts (at Toyota Center in 2013, Minute Maid in 2011, and Reliant Stadium during RodeoHouston in 2009), I've found each one provides a number of aha moments. My five takeaways from this one are:
There is something for everyone at a Taylor Swift concert
While Swift’s previous concerts were plainly geared to teenage angst, 1989 is a more sophisticated and sleeker show that will indeed appeal to teenagers but also their parents. Sure, the lyrics still have to do with romance, love and loss, but they're germane to all ages with a more grown-up attitude. Even middle-aged parents (probably embarrassing their kids to no end) were standing, dancing and singing the songs.
While most of the songs came from her 1989 album, a few standbys like “Love Story” and “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” were differently arranged with a harder rock edge to thrill teenagers and older listeners as well.
It's one of the best produced concerts you'll see
For those in the audience who remember when Swift wore cowgirl attire as she performed at the Rodeo (and this writer remembers her as a 13-year-old before her first break), she has grown up and in a good way. She has turned out to be a more than capable dancer and an expressive performer who connects with her audience much like a Paul McCartney.
1989 featured numerous costume changes for both Swift and her dancers and the use of a horizontal stage that lifted above the crowd and rotated so she could almost make contact with those in the nosebleed section. It was a unique, ambitious and visually dazzling spectacle.
She gives good advice
Mid-concert, Swift talked to the attentive audience for several minutes about what she had learned. While every parent with a teenager no doubt wished they could bottle the advice, I wanted to relay it to everyone I know and remember it myself. “You won’t be happy every day, every minute. But when you experience those hard times, think about the times you were happy. Let those thoughts of happiness sustain you until you can pull yourself back to a happy place again.“
She went on to say, “The one thing I know is that performing for you makes me so happy. And it makes me happy to think that perhaps I have brought some happiness to you tonight.”
She also reminded the audience that they were not defined by their mistakes or what others thought of them. “Failure means you are just not done yet,” she said.
She loves surprises
The most obvious surprise of the concert was the appearance of rapper Wiz Khalifa who sang a duet of his hit, "See You Again," with Swift to roars so loud the stadium shook. But Khalifa (and the other special guests such as John Legend, Ryan Tedder and Nicki Minaj who have regularly made appearances on this tour) wasn’t the only surprise.
Swift's costumes were a mix between sassy and sophisticated. One lit up with cherry lights in a dance number with matching umbrellas while a dainty evening gown suddenly became a sleek gold body suit in the closing set. And to "Shake It Off" in the last number, Swift wore a spangly pink two-piece costume while her male dancers lit up the stage in purple suits.
While Minute Maid is not the best place for a concert — the acoustics are horrible and many seats are far from the stage — the sound system worked well for this concert and the dazzling airport-sized runway stage that rose 40 feet in the air and rotated in a circle was beyond anything U2 concertgoers have come to expect. A crystal piano rose from underground, a keyboard soared in the air, each concertgoer had an LED wristband that changed colors to Swift's music, and, of course there were plenty of fireworks — so many that after the concert ended, the baseball diamond at Minute Maid was encased in a shroud of smoke.
She is a fan of her fans
Swift knows how to make her fans feel special. She noted that Houston is one of her favorite places to play and that her parents had gotten married in the Bayou City.
And prior to the concert in what has become a tradition, her mother, Andrea Swift, walked through the audience and selected 20 to 30 ecstatic fans to join her in a roped-off area near the stage. Andrea made sure that handicapped and ticket holders in the nose-bleed section were also included. Andrea rarely misses her daughter's concerts and, by the cheers and hugs she received, she has quite a fan base herself.
And well deserved. She is unfailingly gracious to everyone, posing for millions of pictures, giving autographs, singing along to every song and loving the concert as much as we do.
Like mother, like daughter, perhaps?