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The explosion of sound that greeted Taylor Swift on Wednesday night in Omaha quickly proved how much pop superstars on tour rely on the soundtrack inside their fans' heads.
For the first four songs of Swift's kickoff concert of “The Red Tour,” screams, whistles and cheers melded with her powerful backup band to create a relentless cacophony. One suspects, though, that few in the packed CenturyLink Center crowd of 13,800 needed to make out Swift's vocals above the din. They could listen inside their brains as they reveled in the dancers, the pyrotechnics, the sexy band members and backup singers and, of course, Swift herself.
Somewhere amid all the super-spectacle, there's a 23-year-old woman who writes catchy tunes but catches many millions of young admirers with her lyrics about living on the cusp of adulthood. Those who come to tonight's second and last Omaha show hoping to hear those lyrics will have to wait a little while. But when Swift changed the mood halfway through Wednesday's two-hour opener, she gave the uninitiated in her audience a taste of why she connects with her fans.
They also can expect more than a taste of red — not to mention “Red,” her latest album, which accounted for 13 of the 17 songs in Swift's set. After blowing through “State of Grace” and “Holy Ground” to open the show, she paused before launching into the title track. Red, she said, defines “jealousy, anger, heartbreak, falling in love, falling out of love” — all feelings that keep surfacing over and over in her music and her life.
That brought to mind three 16-year-old Omaha girls who were walking the concourse before the show, carrying signs saying “Welcome to Omaha, Taylor Swift!” and “T-Swizzle — We Love You Taylor, forever and always,” in the hope of attracting enough attention to be invited into the standing-room area within the T-shaped extension of the main stage.
“We're all in high school, so we're living through relationships,” said Krista Pedersen, who joined Lillian Griffith and Gina Mavhezha to celebrate Griffith's birthday. “A lot of her songs are hating on guys, so it's kind of awesome to rock out to that.”
“And she's pretty,” Griffith added.
That has been a winning combination for Swift since she started scoring chart-toppers seven years ago at age 16. But the magic tends to run out for teen stars when they reach their 20s unless they can find a personal voice that matures along with their fans. Fortunately, Swift's concert selections from “Red” — at least the ones that could be readily heard — indicate that she recognizes the danger of staying too young as a songwriter for too long.
As she celebrated her young adulthood in “22,” she let herself be carried from the main stage through her adoring crowd to party some more on an auxiliary stage. Then Swift suddenly shifted the mood with her next song, “I Almost Do,” which she performed with only her own guitar. The song, she said, was about the temptation young people can feel to call an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who isn't good for them. “This is a song I wrote instead of making that call,” she said. “But I almost did.”
Swift's comments about “Mean,” one of her hit songs from her “Speak Now” album of 2010, also reflected an evolving viewpoint. “I used to daydream that when you were grown up, there would be no more bullies,” she told the crowd. But no matter how old one gets, “there's always going to be somebody who picks on you.” When she started singing, the audience told her how much they related to the song: They started singing along immediately.
Eventually, the spectacle reasserted itself as Swift “flew” away from the auxiliary stage, singing “Sparks Fly” all the way. The excitement and decibel levels peaked with “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Swift's most recent single from “Red.” The choreography turned the arena into a massive dance party, with amped-up dubstep bass drops and heavy doses of strobe lights. A circus-themed “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” capped the frenzy, but hopes for an encore were dashed when the house lights immediately came up.
One is only young once. For Swift, now is the time to celebrate her ability to sing in the center ring of her own circus. If she keeps writing so skillfully about her feelings, she'll still be around when the red fires of youth fade to quieter shades.