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Even in the rain, Swift shines

Posted by James Reed  June 26, 2011 01:12 PM

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(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)

TAYLOR SWIFT
With: NEEDTOBREATHE, Randy Montana, James Wesley
At: Gillette Stadium, last night

By James Reed
Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH – When the rain came, Taylor Swift embraced it. It began as a light patter, adding a delicate backdrop to ballads about young love and how it inevitably leads to heartache.

Then came the downpour, and Swift decided if a sold-out Gillette Stadium was going to ride out the storm last night, so was she. The 21-year-old country-pop star was a trouper, a fact reflected not only in her tolerance for the weather, but also a two-hour performance that proved she’s growing into her talent.

Swift already has a remarkable track record with Gillette. Her show there last summer marked her debut playing at a stadium; it was also the first time a female artist had headlined and sold out the cavernous venue.

But last night, for the first of two sold-out concerts (it repeats tonight), Swift returned as a more competent performer better equipped to balance her show’s theatrics with a steady focus on her singing.

The rain softened her, keeping the latter half of the evening brisk and especially heartfelt. Even the show-stopping moments were surprisingly moody. When fireworks popped during “Dear John,” the ensuing smoke, thick with the rain, hung low over the crowd and briefly obscured the stage.

It was good to see Swift humbled by an unscripted turn of events. Her stage persona continues to feel both endearing and grating. With her moony looks of disbelief and long pauses to scare up more wild applause, it’s now hard to stomach her brand of understatement. This is, after all, a fully formed pop star who struts in perpetual freeze-frame poses, long blond locks swinging in synch.

Amid the uplifting love songs (“Sparks Fly,” “You Belong With Me”) and sassy kiss-offs (“Better Than Revenge,” “Speak Now”), this tour manages to downplay some of the stadium bombast for a more down-home feel. With a banjo slung over her shoulder, Swift led a cozy, back-porch rendition of “Mean.” On piano, she was subtle and poised for “Back to December.” Likewise, Swift perched on a little island far from the stage to strum a ukulele on “Fearless” and then an acoustic guitar for “Last Kiss.”

“Enchanted” played up the fairytale fantasy that’s so pivotal to Swift’s success. If you’re shocked that she sold out Gillette twice – for a total of more than 100,000 fans – consider that she’s selling something her peers aren’t: wholesome values from a young perspective. Shock and raunch have no place in her songs; Swift is more concerned with connecting to her fans on the most basic emotional level.

That’s why “Fifteen,” which is still the best thing she’s ever written, resonated so profoundly. Who among us couldn’t relate to the underlying message? “ ’Cause when you’re 15/ And somebody tells you they love you/ You’re gonna believe them.”

She saved that acoustic anthem for the end of the night, with one last hit in her arsenal. As “Love Story” bounced out of the speakers like a summer beach ball, Swift took stock of what had just happened: “I’ll never forget the night I saw 52,000 people dancing in the rain.” (She would have been even more incredulous to hear the official tally was 55,000.)

In the opening slots, James Wesley and Randy Montana played up the acoustic country that’s nominally part of Swift’s appeal these days. Meanwhile, NEEDTOBREATHE, a Southern rock band with big guitar hooks to spare, shared little in common with the headliner, save for the occasional banjo.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

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The latest news, commentary, and reviews on music in Boston and beyond.

Contributors

Sarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.

Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.

Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.

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