Early in her Friday show at Ford Field, Taylor Swift vowed to her 60,000 impassioned fans that they were about to embark on “a grand adventure together.”
They certainly did. In a concert that stands among the most elaborate, theatrical productions in pop history, Swift offered a 44-song, three-hour-plus immersion in her sprawling hit catalog on the first of two sold-out nights, as Detroit becomes center of the Swiftie-verse for a weekend.
It was a career-spanning journey of constantly shifting scenery, fantastical morphing worlds and a set list sectioned, just as the Eras Tour name implies, into chapters highlighting music from nine of her 10 original albums. Twelve weeks into the tour, it was clear there’s still plenty of pent-up energy pouring out from Swift, who had come off a five-year performing break.
I’ve covered Swift’s Detroit concert career since its early days — from her assorted support gigs, her Palace of Auburn Hills headlining debut and her inevitable ascent to Ford Field, Swift’s go-to local venue since 2012. Those previous visits certainly had their own attendant energy and hype, which only grew as time went on.
But Friday night was another level. It was far and away the most ambitious, elaborate outing yet from the 33-year-old star, who showed impressive stamina on a marathon night.
And that was despite an acknowledgement from Swift that she’s getting to the end of a cold, which even had her stopping to blow her nose at the piano before a performance of “Champagne Problems.”
“It might not be the last time it happens, I’ll just warn you,” she joked to the crowd.
What hasn’t changed is Swift’s bond with her legion of hang-on-every-word fans, now a multigenerational bunch who locked in Friday with her melodic songs of romance, broken relationships and personal growth.
It was an evening where the infectious bounce of 2008’s “You Belong with Me” was soon followed by the sylvan, autumnal songs of “Evermore,” part of the prolific batch of music Swift cranked out amid the pandemic.
Older hits such as “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” retained their youthful pop charms, with “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off” still infectious and effervescent.
But those were like frothy chestnuts in a set dominated by her ever-deepening post-2017 music. “Look What You Made Me Do,” all flailing hair and propulsive anger, was part of a “Reputation” stretch that included the stadium-sized anthem “Ready for It.” Swift’s songwriting growth was on display via the organic, dreamy sounds of “Folklore,” from which she drew seven numbers, while “Midnights,” her latest release, was well represented in the show’s homestretch, which included the pointed, self-critical introspection of “Anti-Hero.”
A Friday high point came with the emotionally roiling “All Too Well” — a nine-minute rendition of her so-called “10 Minute Version” — which had Swift transforming the stadium into an intimate space.
Those sorts of moments were interspersed with big dance numbers, with Swift joined by an energetic, all-smiles dance troupe.
The Eras Tour, which began in March, has been marked by its viral moments, the stuff of instant headlines and intense post-show scrutiny on TikTok and beyond. Fans now head into these concerts with giddy expectation: What pronouncement will Taylor deliver onstage? Which surprise guest might appear? What career news will she reveal?
Friday didn’t deliver anything big on that front, but it did offer a pair of tour premieres: For her acoustic “surprise songs” segment, Swift performed the album cuts “Haunted” (2010) and “I Almost Do” (2012), the latter seemingly unfamiliar to many in the audience.
If she’s going to dig up a Motown-referencing song such as “London Boy” for a Detroit crowd, it’ll have to come Saturday night.
For fans Friday inside Ford Field, it was a long night of selfies and screams, loud singalongs and no shortage of happy tears. And there were the sparkly outfits — lots and lots and lots of them. Before the lights went down, the stadium was a sea of shimmering pink and purple.
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Young fans, unfailingly polite, exchanged friendship bracelets on the concourse. Parents shared their ticket-buying tales, both horror stories and lucky breaks.
Detroit was welcoming a Taylor Swift who occupies a rarefied spot in popular culture. She has been a leading music figure since her teens — first in country, then pop — but in 2023 her popularity is supernova. The Eras Tour was a larger-than-life spectacle before it even began, with fan demand crashing Ticketmaster and even prompting congressional inquiries. Hours before showtime Friday, tickets at resellers such as StubHub were priced at $1,200 and up.
That big buzz was matched Friday night by an appropriately jumbo-sized extravaganza. The art of stadium pop pageantry has been highly refined in the past decade, and most tours these days arrive with their own high-tech bells and whistles. But Swift’s production ups the ante, using every muscle to create worlds-within-worlds as the show moves through its musical moods.
On an enormous stage with a runway jutting across the stadium and a massive video screen behind it, there were waterfalls of sparks, columns of smoke, flurries of confetti snow, exquisite scaffolding, myriad costume changes, striking backdrops, live re-creations of Swift’s famous music-video scenes, and countless moving parts. All morphed seamlessly from song to song, from set change to set change. The lighting was elaborate, often breathtaking.
For years, one of Swift’s stock onstage moves was to pause midshow, mouth agape, and take in the scene before her — a blushing, wow-this-is-really-happening gesture of appreciation. There’s still a version of that, which we saw early Friday, but it comes with a new poise, an edge of fierceness and a self-aware wink.
“Well, Detroit, you’re making me feel phenomenal right now,” she said to the roaring crowd. “All this, all this, all this — what if it starts going to my head?”
The action will resume Saturday at Ford Field, with doors opening at 4:30 p.m. Based on Friday’s festivities, Swift will likely take the stage at about 8 p.m., following opening sets by Girl in Red (6:55 p.m.) and Owenn (6:25 p.m.).
Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Taylor Swift commands Ford Field in dazzling, marathon opening night