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Swift juggernaut shifts into high gear

Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass., June 26, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The Taylor Swift juggernaut, aka Speak Now World Tour 2011, confirms the superstar status of Swift.

The pop country singer sold out two nights at the football stadium and demonstrated that going from the arenas to an even bigger stage proved no problem. In fact, Swift deftly connected with fans in a number of ways in a colorful night of music.

Swift would not be accused of leaving much to chance. The show was well choreographed - how could it not given the elaborate stagings of many of the songs (she played 12 of 14 songs from the excellent "Speak Now") and numerous costume changes? When Swift shook her long main of blonde curls, her two backing singers did the same in unison, and it seemed no coincidence.

But it should have come as no surprise either, and that was not a criticism. Swift has assumed great control over her career, and there probably is a reason why she has proven as commercially successful as she has been. In concert, she took some of the songs, converting them into concepts and made them artistically and visually pleasing in successfully translating them to the big stage.

Sparks did fly towards the end of the opening Sparks Fly. "Snowflakes" fell, for example, as a prelude to the pretty sounding Back to December.

The most overly country song of the night was her current single, Mean, which found Swift and band occupying a porch setting. The song cooked, sounded real and convincing.

Was it too much? Not really. Swift's goal was to make each song stand on its own, and she accomplished that. A few less costume changes would have been fine and meant less time filled by the band (which did have musical chops) until Swift was ready for the next song. Aerialists were utilized on a few numbers, and although visually pretty, did not add so much to what was already going on.

Nine dancers provided color to a bunch of the songs, but Swift smartly did not have them overwhelm or overtake the music. Appealing to an extent, the dancers also were not required to make the show work.

Frankly, if you're going to do a stadium show, the expectation these days is that spectacle is probably part of the formula. For Swift, that also meant the occasional setting off of fireworks, a romp around the stadium floor, where she pit-stopped for three acoustic songs on a back stage in a nice touch that changed the tone of the snow (something she often did to maintain interest in a show that never flagged), before resuming her tour of the other side of the floor.

Swift also made excellent use of a long catwalk into the crowd on numerous enough occasions so that it felt natural and a regular part of the evening. Obviously, it is difficult for any artist to engage a crowd in such a large setting, but Swift did her utmost to minimize the gulf. She also interacted with her very young fan base often, in introducing the songs and making it clear for the umpteenth time how much she appreciated them. (it should be noted that Swift has been extremely pro-active in winning over her fans, especially on line). Someone though, Swift still seems surprised when the rabid applause started.

Swift almost totally stayed away from her debut save for Our Song,, meaning no Tim McGraw, Picture to Burn and Teardrops on My Guitar. It's hard to believe that Swift is far enough along in her career to eschew playing those songs. Maybe she should have played even longer than the two hours she did, not that she chintzed on time.

The main criticism against Swift has been the quality of her voice, but that stood well during the show with few exception. During several songs, Swift's voice was mixed too low and lost in the music. She also didn't fare as well a few times on slower numbers whereas in the more uptempo material, such as the close of the regular set Long Live and the strong show closer, Love Story, Swift showed a lot of fire and emotion.

Those qualities have served her well along with the ability to write a slew of quality songs. Speaking for now, anyway, Taylor Swift definitely is on a continual, deserved roll.

Two country acts and a rock band preceded Swift with James Wesley and Randy Montana both given about 20 minutes. Montana, who has a release coming out in one month, sounded like a somewhat tamer Gary Allan vocally. He displayed a good voice on a few mid-tempo songs he played acoustically with a sidekick.

Wesley, who just had a semi-hit with Real, has a more traditional, full-sounding country voice with a lot of timbre (How Much Do You Love Me) It would have been nice to hear more of both Montana and Wesley to let them demonstrate their wears.

NEEDTOBREATHE rocked the place with a very enjoyable bluesy rock-based set. The fact that they weren't country and didn't pretend to be seemed assured from the opening The Outsiders. They made the most of their 30 minutes on stage.