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Review: Greg Phillips Photo Credit: TAS Rights Management

Full disclosure, I am not a ‘Swifty’ and quite likely never will be. Modern pop is not really my genre and I’m not its demographic anyway. However there is no denying that Taylor Swift has become the biggest pop culture icon on the planet and tonight the Melbourne Cricket Ground is the epicentre of the entertainment world. The Eras concert tour is in town and for anyone in the music business, it’s simply the only place to be. It’s on our hallowed turf this week that Taylor will be breaking numerous attendance records. Her recent appearances at the Golden Globes and Super Bowl have intensified the hype even more. Turn on the TV or open your phone and there is no escaping Taylor Swift. It’s difficult to believe that she could get any more attention than what’s she receiving at the moment, this is her time … but why? What’s it all about? Let’s go into the G and find out!

Inside, the crowd is predominantly female, mostly young girls. Selfies are obligatory, as are model-like poses.The excitement level is palpable and I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many smiling faces before a gig in my life. The fans have waited so long and saved hard to earn their tickets and nothing is going to hinder their enjoyment. For many, it’s their first ever concert. The power of music is on show and that’s one big tick for me.

American singer and actress Sabrina Carpenter is the chosen one for tonight’s support act and is clearly overjoyed with the response from this passionate crowd. The Swifties know all, including their support act’s music and singalong to Sabrina’s hits such as Feather, Fast Times and Because I Liked a Boy. Sabrina too has done her home work and a heartfelt rendition of local idol Olivia Newton John’s Hopelessly Devoted To You brings a roar from the audience.

Two minutes out from the main act, a clock appears and the countdown begins. The noise level sends my Apple watch audio warning into overdrive. The Taylor Swift hype has been compared to Beatlemania and this is evident tonight as their idol can’t be heard over the screams from the audience upon her arrival to the stage.

Taylor Swift’s ERAS show is a concert that runs three and a half hours, offering blocks of tracks from her albums encompassing an 18 year career including; Lover, Fearless, Evermore,  Reputation, Speak Now, Red, Folklore, and 1989, through to the more recent Midnights.

Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince opens the show, followed by Cruel Summer and from the get-go the crowd is singing every word along with their idol. Her feminine anthem The Man showcases the incredible staging, perfectly syncing background footage on the massive screen with the real time choreography of the dancers on stage.

The stage production excels again with The Archer featuring a burning house effect beamed across the panoramic screen. Every song is a VMA Awards-scale creation. The dancers and choreography are incredible, the sound coming out of the PA is faultless.  Taylor, donning a pink Gibson acoustic guitar is in command of it all.

Finally Swift stops to welcome us to the ERAS tour and tells us that if she seems like she is losing her mind, it’s actually happening as she is playing to 96,000 people, her biggest crowd ever. With that, the crowd join her in a stripped back acoustic version of Fearless on her sparkly silver Gibson acoustic. This section is also the first real view of her accomplished band featuring longtime guitarist Paul Sidoti.

The block of tunes from the Evermore album is accompanied visually by a forest, fantasy  theme. Taylor sits down at the piano to deliver a solo version of Champagne Problems. The song ends, she stands and the crowd erupts. She attempts to continue but the audience noise level escalates. She’s clearly overcome with emotion. This is Australia’s acknowledgement and thanks for not only bringing the ERAS tour to Australia but for the years of music she’s delivered to her fans. It is indeed a moment.

The Reputation songs bring about mass singalongs before a taste of the Speak Now album. For the song Long Live, Taylor opts for a blackish blue Gibson acoustic, one of many she’s using throughout the night.

For the Folklore section, she tells us it’s an album she used to challenge herself and hasn’t stopped doing so since. My Tears Richochet and Cardigan showcase her dancers in full swing, featuring sympathetic footage on the screen, the effect is astonishing. The 1989 album follows, her biggest hit Shake It Off goes off and we’re edging toward the pointy end of the night. After watching most of the show through smart phone screens at the end of outstretched arms, it seems camera batteries must be dying as the view is becoming clearer.

The Surprise Songs section of the show is where Taylor comes to the end of the walkway to play songs which are not wedded to the set list. Tonight there’s an acoustic version of Red, played on a gorgeous sunburst Gibson acoustic and then a solo piano version of You’re Losing Me, a song she has never performed live until tonight.

Midnights, arguably one of her most popular albums is the final song block of the evening and it features mega hits such as Lavender Haze, Anti-Hero and Midnight Rain. After three and a half hours, many younger girls are showing signs of wear, resting in their parents arms. With Karma and a shower of confetti and fireworks tonight’s show ends. However it’s a night that they’ll never forget and Taylor tells us the same, she too will never forget the Melbourne reception of the largest gig of her career to date.

At the heart of Taylor’s success is her pure determination to overcome adversity and deliver music to her fans. The fans have remained loyal and ridden the wave with her. Who’ll ever forget that idiot Kanye West storming the VMA’s stage in 2009 and interrupting Taylor Swift as she attempted to accept her award for Best Video by a Female Artist. This is an artist who has had to re-record 4 of her own albums because she got screwed over by a record company. She also had to endure a sexual assault trial in 2017 and don’t forget the current MAGA conspiracy theorists suggesting she’s controlling the world. When it comes to Taylor Swift and social media, as she puts it so succinctly herself, ‘haters gonna hate’. It’s not hard to see why fans are so protective of her. Maybe she isn’t in the same class as a Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Carole King or Paul Simon when it comes to songcraft but try telling that to her fanbase, who relate deeply to everything the young artist has to say.

Hundreds of millions of dollars will be injected into the Australian economy thanks to this tour and again, that’s another big tick from me. Sadly, recent data suggests that attendance at small to medium sized venues is down by up to 60%. Hopefully some of that money can be filtered back into the local venues and assist artists. I’m also sure that tonight Taylor has motivated thousands of young fans to pick up a musical instrument and pursue their own music dreams. While I might not have been converted to full Swifty status tonight, I have a hell of a lot of respect for this inspiring artist and the excitement she has created for the music world and whether you’re a fan of her music or not,  the show is simply stunning.

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