Taylor Swift is back on tour after five years. The first night, her three-hour set has 70,000 people rapt

Opening night of the star’s Eras Tour traverses her 10-album career with high-octane hits

The most meaningful Taylor Swift recording of the past few years is almost certainly All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault), as layered and provocative as its title is unwieldy. A revision and expansion of one of her most gutting songs – the original appears on her 2012 breakthrough pop album, Red – it dissects a problematic, lopsided and ultimately scarring relationship with forensic detail. It’s a scathing commentary on the ex who inspired the track, and it also has something to say about the version of Swift who first committed this story to song more than a decade ago: Swift now understands things that Swift then couldn’t possibly have known.

About halfway through Swift’s three-hour performance at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on Friday – the opening night of the Eras Tour, her first roadshow in five years – she is at the centre of the long runway stage, elevated on a platform, holding 70,000 people rapt with this tale of righteous fury and anguish. Plenty are singing along with her, but somehow, the accumulated voices sound like one huge hush, students in awe of the master class.

There are plenty of peaks during this concert drawn from the full arc of Swift’s career – the first of a sold-out 52-date US tour that made news for its disastrous roll-out of ticket sales – but none quite like this. Throughout the night, she zigzags between stretches of high-octane hits from older albums and mixed-bag selections from more recent ones – celebration with splashes of duty. What this ambitious and energetic if sometimes scattershot performance underscores, however, is just how many pivots Swift has undertaken in her career, and how the accompanying risks can have wildly different consequences.

In modern-pop parlance, album roll-outs are often described as eras, but Swift’s career hasn’t always been that cleanly delineated. She has made a few key turns over the years, though – on Red, when she divebombed into gleaming, centrist pop; on Reputation, when she made some of her sleekest and most au courant music; and on Folklore and Evermore, when she transformed into a woodland fairy.


Songs from Red, one of Swift’s most acclaimed albums, arrives midshow, and they are potent wallops – a jubilant and cheeky 22, followed by the indignant We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together and I Knew You Were Trouble. And when Swift, in a one-legged bodysuit embroidered with a snake motif, performs selections from Reputation, she shows just how wrongly maligned that album was upon its release. Don’t Blame Me is husky and alluring, while Look What You Made Me Do, performed in front of dancers trapped in glass boxes dressed as old versions of Swift, brims with attitude.

Swift is cheerily, proactively defensive about Evermore – “an album I absolutely love despite what some of you say on TikTok” – but that segment of the show is particularly limp, especially the gloomy and spare Marjorie and ’Tis the Damn Season. And the jolt from the melancholia of that restrained singer-songwriter release to the brazen stomp of Reputation is awkward. Songs from Folklore fare slightly better, especially Cardigan and Betty, but this section teeters toward melodrama, as if compensating for the less-assured production on those songs.

The set list overindexes on the four albums Swift released after her last big tour, supporting Reputation in 2018 – the chipper and jaunty Lover, the one-two bucolic swaddle of Folklore and Evermore, and Midnights, released in October. But the Eras conceit also means that Swift won’t have to exclusively lean on songs from these albums, which have, in general, been less popular, consistent and ambitious than her earlier ones.

She opens the show with a run of songs from Lover, a hit-or-miss album that still yielded some excellent tracks. The Man, performed in full office cosplay, is biting and hilarious, and Cruel Summer has an almost ecstatic chill to it. From there, she jumps back to Fearless, her second album, and the first one made with an understanding that her relationship with country music might be a dalliance. The earnest pleas in You Belong With Me and Love Story still have their old bite.

She concludes with a selection of songs from Midnights, a challenging album to wrap a show of this magnitude – it’s more an amalgam of old Swift ideas than a harbinger of a new direction. During Anti-Hero, the screen behind Swift shows a version of her as a kind of King Kong, bigger than everyone and unfairly besieged, and on Lavender Haze, she is surrounded by dancers hoisting huge cloudy puffs.

A distinct shimmer runs through the night’s final three selections, the tinny Bejeweled, the spacey Mastermind and the needling Karma. All of those songs, which can be brittle from a lyrical perspective, benefit from the scale of the production here.

But something far more meaningful comes just before that show-closing run. During an acoustic segment, she comes out to the farthest point of the stage, sits at a small piano and plays her first single, Tim McGraw (the song she performs from her self-titled 2006 debut album).

In addition to All Too Well (10 Minute Version), it is the night’s other pillar performance. It’s a song about memory and the ways in which people fail one another, and she sings it heavy with regret and tinged with sweetness.

But unlike All Too Well, which now benefits from the wisdom that time affords, Tim McGraw remains as raw as the day it was recorded. No real tweaks, no rejoinder from the new Swift to the old one – just a searing take on the sort of love that makes for a better song than relationship. There are some things Swift simply has understood all along. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times