Concert review of Taylor Swift at Verizon Center

Taylor Swift performed at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, June 1, 2010.
By Dave McKenna
Thursday, June 3, 2010

Woe is us, country and pop radio listeners, if Taylor Swift's loves start going requited.

She's written some of the best and biggest singles released in recent years in any genre or by any artist. And nothing inspires Swift, at 20, like being wronged by this or that boy. She opened Tuesday's sold-out Verizon Center show with one of her many wondrous offerings for the young and lovelorn, "You Belong With Me." As she galloped around in her drum majorette's outfit transformed with a tug and some designer magic into a sequined miniskirt, the first of several arena-wide singalongs ensued.

"If guys don't want me to write bad songs about them, they shouldn't do bad things," Swift later told the crowd, while introducing "Forever & Always." Swift acted angry about something as she sang it, picking up and heaving a large chair from a riser above the stage to the floor. Her hard-core fans are sure "Forever & Always" was inspired by Swift's gossipy breakup with Joe Jonas. Add in the nationally televised humiliation Kanye West dealt her at the Video Music Awards, and it's hard to name a celebrity who owes more of his or her fame to being mistreated. (Proof of her renown: The tabloids are reporting that Demi Lovato looked to Swift for aid after her own breakup with Jonas.)

But you don't have to be a Jonas dumpee to look up to Swift.

Brittany Baity of Stafford got to see her favorite performer as part of her 10th-birthday present. Brittany was most happy to hear "Picture to Burn," still another tune Swift wrote after a soured relationship (sample lyric: "I realized you love yourself more than you could ever love me"). So her mother, Penny Baity, bought the tickets and two licensed Taylor Swift shirts from the merchandise stand for her daughter. She'd already given Brittany a guitar so she could learn Swift songs. Swift is the only pop singer Brittany listens to, and this was her first concert. "This is the way I was with the Carpenters," her mother said.

For "Teardrops on My Guitar," the set turned into a school library so Swift could tell of being ignored by an object of her affection. And before an understated acoustic version of "Fifteen," Swift said she wrote it about a time in her life when her "biggest dream in the world would have been getting asked to go to prom." That prom invite, alas, didn't come, so the song did.

Swift's ability to sing in tune without pitch-correction software has been questioned since she crooned Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon" in the key of off at this year's Grammy Awards. But there's no need for digital assistance, even when going unplugged as she did Tuesday night on the ballad, if you can coax thousands of young girls to bellow every word (money line: "When you're 15 and somebody tells you they love you, you're gonna believe them!") as if this was their national anthem. On "White Horse," the chorus of believers also joined in, and threw their young fists in the air to yell Swift's esteem-free but cathartic climax, "I'm gonna find someone someday who might actually treat me well!"

For all its high points, Swift's live show is hampered by artifice. At several points, she did nothing but stand and stare at the crowd, just to keep post-song ovations going and going and going. She could have shed 20 minutes out of the 2 hours 6 minutes she spent on stage and wouldn't have to cut a note. Making things worse, during these applause-milking sessions, she'd flash the exact same oh-my-God look, with eyebrows held high but no forehead movement whatsoever, that she's flashed at every music awards show over the past few years. It's a tired act that all of her fans have seen too many times already, and if she were older everybody would blame that facial expression on bad Botox.

But so many of Swift's songs are so good, she's almost bulletproof. Rich Massabny, 64, and his wife, Judy Massabny, 62, said they generally go to shows of performers closer to their own age -- the last concerts they attended were given by jazz legends Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis. But Judy said she and especially Rich became taken with Swift last year when "on every radio station every 10 minutes it was Taylor Swift."

"You can understand the words, and she's not out there half-naked," said Judy, explaining why she fell for Swift.

The Massabnys, who live in Arlington, had to get tickets to Swift's show. They got out of their seats for the first time when she began bellowing "Love Story," which along with being the perfect pop song is one of the few Swift tunes in which she actually gets the guy. For this Romeo-and-Juliet-with-a-happier-ending tale, Swift started out in some sort of burgundy gown like the workers at Colonial Williamsburg wear while they churn butter, but that dress was ripped off to reveal a white wedding gown.

She ended the show being wronged one last time, singing her cheating-victim smash, "Should've Said No," while on her knees as water fell over her in sheets from the ceiling.

"Washington, D.C., I hope you know that I'm never going to forget the way you made me feel tonight!" Swift announced. When you're 15, or whatever age, and Taylor Swift tells you that, you're gonna believe her.

McKenna is a freelance writer.

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