Concert Review: Taylor Swift + Haim + Vance Joy | ‘1989’ Comes To St. Louis

Photo by Jason Gonulsen

The drought was the very worst
When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst

Just last week, a dog named Marvin was lost.

There were flyers posted. There was his distraught owner walking the neighborhood, barely able to spit out a complete sentence before he became emotional and started to run his hands through his hair. “He was running down that alley, and then…” He couldn’t look me in the eye.

He had a few treats in his hand, and an old shirt, presumably to lure Marvin back with a scent. I could somehow feel his regret, as if I knew he had already placed blame on himself — that maybe he had let the door open, or let Marvin run free for a few seconds too long. We feel so many things in life. We regret so many of them.

Last night before Taylor Swift sang “Clean” to almost 20,000 in St. Louis at the Scottrade Center, she spoke for a few minutes about love and regret — albeit a different kind of regret — and how none of that is shameful. She talked of trust, and letting someone in your life — to be vulnerable, to be fragile, to not think twice. And if it doesn’t work out in the end, to hell with it — it’s always better to try.

“There was nothing left to do,” Swift sang as she was lifted up above the crowd on an elevated catwalk, acoustic guitar by her side.

And maybe that’s easy for Taylor Swift to say — the most followed person on Instagram, the pop darling, the musician Ryan Adams chose to cover, the one dancing and singing with Mick Jagger and Leona Lewis.  What pain does she have to endure?

Photo by Jason Gonulsen

She has endured plenty (which isn’t exactly the point, but I will get to that). After two hours of seeing her perform songs from 1989 and selections from her back catalog, I’m convinced of a few things, mainly: A) the young woman knows how to defeat heartbreak and B) she’s ridiculously good at what she does.

But before I explain further, a few words about openers Vance Joy and Haim. Joy is from Australia, and you probably know him from his single, “Riptide,” which he performed on ukelele. His 25-minute set also featured a cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and the beautiful and original “Georgia,” the latter which appears on his debut album, Dream Your Life Away.

Haim was equally impressive, as they brought a “basement jam session” to the arena, covering Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” which had Danielle Haim shredding while walking the catwalk. Everything you’ve heard about the Haim sisters is true (read: they are special), and songs like “Forever” and “Let Me Go” held up just fine being played in an arena to an unfamiliar crowd.

That crowd though. Youth in all its mystery and wide-eyed wonder. Glowing angel wings. Blinking wristbands, which were given to everyone by Swift, and were synchronized to shine bright to the beats in her 1989 tunes. Curfews were broken, then extended further. You might only get one shot to see Taylor Swift in her prime.

And what about heartbreak and enduring pain? Swift is indeed familiar, and she could have recorded 1989 as precious ballads, as more obvious swipes at former lovers. But the opportunity to dwell on her past as some object of torture is something she is not interested in, and give her credit for seeking re-invention. Sure, her Red album had pop-rock elements, but it wasn’t the full blown-out pop explosion that 1989 is, and I know what you’re thinking — what about songs like “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood” — intentional slaps in face, right? Sure, but to me they are acts of defiance — attempts to  move on –that rose from years of being thrown away like a thin receipt. Taylor Swift knows heartbreak, but she’s not — well, maybe no longer — suffocated by it, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Photo by Suzanne Rogers

The 1989 tour that I experienced last night featured a 25-year-old woman who is living proof that confidence vaults art to unimaginable levels, and it’s very clear to me now that Taylor Swift’s talent is elite and undeniable. For those of you who write that she’s “Max Martin’s puppet” (you know, the guy who co-writes a bunch of popular songs), I don’t know what to tell you. Well, actually I do know what to tell you, but you probably wouldn’t listen anyway.

From the opening “Welcome To New York” to the closing “Shake It Off,” Swift let go and took the audience with her into a world she has carefully created. Her 1989 tour is an invitation to live freely and accept all consequences — that you must open the door with trust, and the dog might run away.

Love runs away. And somehow we must move on.

A final message was flashed on the screen after she left: “She lost him but she found herself, and somehow that was everything.”

So we live. We shake it off. And we let die.

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