Thirteen thousand, five hundred people – a number quoted by Taylor Swift herself - crowded into the Verizon Center Wednesday for the second night of her two-show engagement in Washington. Families with little girls in tow dominated the scene, though there were more than a few men with girlfriends and high school-aged groups dotting the very large and very packed arena.
Although the crowd was quite gracious about the opening acts, occasionally throwing singer Hunter Hayes and five-piece Needtobreathe a bone and hollering “I love you!” the two bands lasted less than an hour combined on stage.
After a short break, during which the stage set-up was completely reinvented behind a red opera curtain, Swift began her set with “Sparks Fly,” adorned in a bespangled gold dress and full of hair-flipping attitude. She was joined, rather aptly, by a spray of pyrotechnics that lit up the stage and crowd.
Most of the songs she performed were from her newest album, “Speak Now”; she sang “Our Song” off her first record and only her biggest hits from her sophomore effort “Fearless.” Honestly, the set-list could have been improved with an addition from her self-titled first album – maybe “Picture to Burn” to go along with the bitter-yet-still-strong vibe of “Better than Revenge.”
“Dear John,” speculated to have been written about Swift’s fling with John Mayer, could have easily fallen into pointless melodrama. Instead, the much-debated song proved a sensation. Swift imbued the lyrics with heartfelt resonance and seemed to be thumbing her nose at Mayer with every rendition of her “love” letter to John.
If “Dear John” was the emotional heartbeat of the “Speak Now” tour, then “Haunted” was the no holds barred showstopper. Complete with a dramatic tolling of an oversized bell, the choreography and stage direction for this song was excellent. The staging made for a beautifully composed number, as acrobats suspended from the eaves and dancers moved fluidly among the machine-generated fog.
After she dedicated “Long Live” to the fans who had supported her for so long, Swift returned for an encore of “Fifteen” and “Love Story.” In the final number, she mounted an enclosed balcony and proceeded to fly out above the arena, passing overhead in a hail of glitter.
The show highlighted more than just Swift’s ability to carry a tune, however. Contemporary, tap and ballet dancers all enhanced the aesthetic of the concert. The ever-changing stage, which moved from a gazebo, to a veranda, to a moonlit forest, added an element of narrative. Nonetheless, despite all the trappings that surrounded the country superstar, Swift made sure all the attention was placed squarely on her.
Opener Hunter Hayes and his supporting band played just four short songs, mostly bluesy tunes that hinted at Swift’s country beginnings. With two acoustic guitars in addition to a bass, the band deftly strung melody and harmony together for a layered sound that lent the otherwise stripped down set some depth.
Indeed, Hayes seemed to prefer to anchor his songs in variegated instrumental parts, while keeping his vocal melodies simple and sweet. After the balladic “Wanted,” Hayes ended his set with “Storm Warning,” the title track off his album.
Needtobreathe took the stage with an edgier attitude; the introduction of electric guitar gave the band an older, scruffier sound than Hayes’s folksy ramblings. With five members and a wider range of instrumentation – the band featured a pianist, as well as a few members who doubled up on instruments like the banjo – they played songs that ranged from the honky tonk “Girl Named Tennessee” to the rhythmic “Something Beautiful.” Needtobreathe shone the most during their instrumental breaks, when the musicians focused more on jamming, than at any other time.
Story of Us
Back to December
Better Than Revenge
Fearless/Hey, Soul Sister/I’m Yours
Stay (Lisa Loeb cover)
A Sorta Fairytale (Tori Amos cover)
You Belong to Me