Taylor Swift wows Cardiff audience with ultra-deep cuts and a Welsh greeting: Show review

Taylor Swift wows Cardiff audience with ultra-deep cuts and a Welsh greeting: Show review

“I spend a lot of my time trying to plan these things,” Taylor Swift said with a smile — and classic understatement — as she strapped on her acoustic guitar for the “surprise songs” segment of her “Eras” tour stop in Cardiff, Wales. “I like to challenge myself to do different things every night (so) every show is unique.”

Considering the unprecedented levels of attention the tour has garnered since it began in Glendale, Arizona, 100 shows and more than a year ago, that seemed like a bold statement.

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After all, nearly everyone in the 67,000-capacity Principality Stadium had almost certainly already seen most of the show, either in the cinema, on Disney+ or both, possibly across multiple screenings. Even the most casual observer — not that there appear to be any of those here, even the handful of designated-driver parents presented as hardcore Swifties — will have caught key moments in news coverage or on the myriad social media streams that proliferate around each show.

And true to form, Swift went above and beyond to make the girls (and boys) from the Welsh Valleys feel special: Not only did they get a surprise song treat (more on that in a moment), she greeted them in the country’s native tongue. Welsh is one of the most difficult European languages ​​to master, but her rendition of “Shwmae, croeso i daith Eras” (“Hello, welcome to the ‘Eras’ tour”) certainly felt authentic.

In fact, some parts are so familiar that the crowd not only sang along to the songs, but also he spoke along with some of Swift’s song announcements. Some even tried to make the same face as Swift when she said them. When even your facial expressions have their own greatest hits compilation, what can you do to retain an element of the unexpected?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. It’s to Swift’s eternal credit that, despite all of the above, seeing the “Eras” tour in the flesh remains a mind-blowing, heart-stopping spectacle that feels as fresh as the Welsh mountain air.

The surprise songs help, of course. The concept of rotating different acoustic versions — one on guitar, one on piano — of songs from his catalog is a deceptively simple idea that nonetheless ensures that everyone is involved on every tour date, not just the one they’re heading to (and literally involved, too, via his steady stream of reissues of his latest album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” featuring exclusive recordings of those versions).

Waiting for the “Eras” date to arrive becomes a musical game of “Deal or No Deal,” as fans hope there are still plenty of high-value classics from their personal selection on the red side of the board in play when you sit down.

Cardiff definitely made a “deal”: “I Forgot That You Existed” from “Lover” was mashed up with “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” from “Reputation,” complete with a hilarious rendition of the latter’s laugh-out-loud “I can’t even say it with a serious face” — these songs are heavily linked in the popular belief that they’re about the Kanye/Kim situation that rocked her world in the late 2010s, though she’s never acknowledged them as such.

And just when fans were pondering the meaning of this intriguing combination, Swift one-upped them by deftly combining a pair of deep cuts, “I Hate It Here” from “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology” — a song she’d never performed live before — with “The Lakes,” a paean to England’s Lake District found on the deluxe version of “Folklore.”

The crowd’s wild reaction was a tribute not only to the depth of her set, but also to her fans’ commitment to it. But Swift’s genius lies in making even the most recognizable elements of this fantastic show feel special.

In fact, Cardiff had a decent claim to being the most distinctive of all the tour’s 101 shows so far. This was Taylor Swift’s first headline show in Wales – although she did appear just down the road in Swansea at a BBC Radio 1 festival in 2018 – and Cardiff is the only city where she’s played for just one night.

This is not due to any lack of demand. The streets around the Principality Stadium – usually the home of Welsh rugby – were as packed with delirious fans, ticket holders and otherwise, as they always are on a Six Nations match day.

And it wasn’t due to Swift’s lack of affinity for the Welsh — after all, she’s probably the only international pop superstar to reference Wales’ national sport in song, declaring, “You can find me in the pub / We’re watching rugby” on “London Boy,” and even making a reference to the original tortured Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, on the title track of her latest album.

She also spoke about her love of the “beautiful Welsh countryside” before “Betty”, while a backing dancer interrupted “Ych a fi” (which roughly translates to “disgusting”) during a lively “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and counted to four in Welsh during “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”.

Swift got a lot in return for such local commitment. The extended ovation that follows “Champagne Problems” each night has become a ritual of the Eras Tour, but Swift still made it seem as if she was stunned by the rapturous applause that followed her here and refused to die down for nearly four minutes. “This crowd is for the books,” she marveled. “This is different.”

And no wonder. If tickets for the rest of the tour are the proverbial gold dust, those for the one-off Cardiff date must have been diamond dust. Which meant everyone here was determined to squeeze every last drop out of the experience.

Everywhere, mothers and daughters or groups of BFFs in classic Swift attire (the “22” era look seems to be the moms’ go-to) were ecstatic. Toddlers in cowboy hats—whatever Welsh entrepreneur invested in pink Stetsons the last time Beyoncé left town will surely retire with the profits after tonight—exchanged friendship bracelets with older, hipper girls eager to welcome them into the Swift sisterhood.

There was quite of tears – older Swifties may have been processing emotional trauma, but for some of the younger ones, Swift’s appearance in the same room seemed to have an effect similar to meeting “the real Santa Claus.”

But there was also a huge amount of joy in a stadium well accustomed to Welsh ecstasy and heartbreak. As much as you think you know the ins and outs of this set, nothing can really prepare you for watching complete strangers doing spontaneous synchronized dance routines during a jubilant “Bejewelled,” or multiple generations of female relatives putting aside concerns about swearing to shout “Fuck the patriarchy!” in unison during a devastating “All Too Well.”

There were too many highlights on stage to list, but take your pick from a rendition of “Style” that was as lively as Swift’s lime green and orange outfit; a rendition of “Look What You Made Me Do” that rocked as hard as opening act Paramore; or a beautifully haunting performance of “Willow”; as Swift breathed new life into even the most familiar corners of the setlist, ensuring that each song earned its own set piece status.

Meanwhile, the newest era — “The Tortured Poets Department” — is already one of the strongest of the bunch. Swift beamed as she seemed to levitate above her dancers on a rotating glass block during a blistering “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me” and, with delicious irony, threw herself into “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” complete with a silent-movie-style prequel sketch as her dancers coaxed her to get dressed and get back out there.

This song is about her dancing through heartbreak on earlier legs of the “Eras” tour, but tonight, Swift’s winning smile felt authentic and wonderfully real, right down to her utterance of “Diolch o galon” (“Thank you from the bottom of my heart”) as she ended the set.

Cardiff was also perhaps the only show on this leg of the tour to take place indoors. The stadium’s retractable roof – designed to protect Welsh rugby’s style from the equally unpredictable local weather – was closed, despite it being possibly the only day of this typically wet UK summer that it was was not Raining outside.

This meant a quieter closing fireworks display, but also that the entire show took place in darkness. It gave the stadium an unusually intimate feel, something that Paramore – the kind of high-caliber support act that only the Eras Tour can provide – took full advantage of.

Hayley Williams made it clear she was happy to be in the unusual role of warm-up act rather than headliner – “If you’re not ready by the end of these 45 minutes, we’ve failed!” – but her look of joy as the crowd roared the first chorus of “Still Into You” showed that Paramore are much more than that.

A set of high-octane hits followed, including “Aint’ It Fun,” “This Is Why” and “Misery Business” (the latter reintroduced into the set at Swift’s request), taking anyone unfamiliar with the band on the same journey as Williams’ T-shirt, which read, “Try it — you’ll like it.”

The “Eras” may now be so large that they practically have their own time zone, their own Gross Domestic Product and their own unique gravitational pull. But when you’re actually there, every moment from the opening “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” to the climactic “Karma” remains gloriously spontaneous and, yes, unique. Rest assured, you’ve never seen anything like it before, even if you think you have.

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