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Taylor Swift plays leader of the band

Staples Center, Los Angeles, April 15, 2010

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Other recent concert reviews
It's April 15, tax day, and water cooler talk for most Americans revolves around unemployment, the healthcare bill and rising national debt. But you'd never guess that tonight. That's because, in Taylor Swift's world, if a boy looks at you the wrong way in class, it's the top story of the day.

Swift's fans clearly adore her for describing their world in song. For instance, she sang Hey Stephen from various points toward the back of the arena, and every time she moved through the crowd she was slowed down by extended hug fests with her glowing admirers. There were also a few moments where Swift just stood on stage, smiling and waiting for the crowd to stop cheering so she could move on to the next song. And this time, there was no Kanye West to spoil her moment.

The show opened with Swift singing her huge pop hit, You Belong to Me, dressed in a marching band uniform and fronted by dancers outfitted as cheerleaders. This would not be the last time Swift and entourage dressed up; they also donned formal wear for Love Story, with Swift all decked out in a gown.

Swift has been criticized in some quarters for her less-than-stellar vocal performance at the recent Grammy Awards ceremony. The jury's still out on Swift's singing abilities, however, because her vocals weren't truly put to the test tonight. She was joined by two female backing singers, who replicated the lead vocals on almost every song, so it was sometimes hard to distinguish Swift from this assertive duo. Furthermore, many in the audience knew the words to every song, which turned the house into a teen and pre-teen choir that nearly drowned out the headliner.

It was strange to hear so many songs about love, and so few lyrical references to sex. Swift sings a lot about fairytales, and it's blatantly a bit of a fairy tale world she inhabits. There are no cutters or teen drug addicts in her romance-dominated world. If anybody ever brought a gun to her high school, that incident never made it into song.

Instead, Swift chooses to focus on first kisses and broken hearts. As the song Fifteen suggests, you really think you know all about love before you're even out of high school. But you learn fast how premature that sort of thinking can be. What you don't know can truly hurt you, and many of Swift's breakup songs detail what a harsh taskmaster experience sometimes is.

All told, Swift sang under 20 songs in around 2 hours. Her performance was sometimes interspersed with big screen video clips - including a hilarious bit with Tim McGraw - that helped fill out the evening. Unlike Brad Paisley, who recently packed the same venue, Swift steers clear of a lot of visual overstimulation. Video backgrounds were mostly used for pretty nature scenes, with the flames accenting Picture to Burn one of the rare exceptions to this rule.

As part of her encore, Swift brought out surprise guest Katy Perry to bounce through Perry's Hot 'N Cold. It was also a reminder that Swift's music is far more pop than country. Just because a girl wears cowboy boots and has a fiddler in her band, does not automatically make her a country singer. Swift ended the night with a Jennifer Beals Flashdance moment by soaking under streams of water, which magically spelled out selected lyrics to concert-closer, Should've Said No.

It was fascinating watching all the young girls singing along with Swift. In many cases, moms were right there by their sides, singing along as well. Teens have forever complained that their parents just don't understand what it's like to be that awkward age. But whether they were sympathizing with their little girls or merely remembering back to their own trying high school years, moms and daughters appeared to put up a united front tonight. Everyone was enthusiastically playing the same sad-but-true tune, and Taylor Swift was the leader of the band.

Vocal group Gloriana opened this show, and was followed by Kellie Pickler, who bravely sat through most of her performance, hobbled by a hurt foot. But she clearly had trouble selling the seething anger of Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You sitting down.

It was also obviously a struggle for her to keep legs crossed atop a stool all that time. But with the many fans and photographers down there in the pit, such ladylikeness was a serious necessity. Although Pickler knows her way around a pop-country tune, how can you effectively sing a song about flashy footwear (Red High Heels), yet not be able to stand up for it? Such was her temporary handicap tonight.