"I'm really overwhelmed and trying to keep it together," admitted an emotional Taylor Swift, as she was engulfed in a tsunami of earsplitting, tinnitus threatening sound. And that was just the crowd.
The amplification at State Farm Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona was loud to the point of distortion. But 70,000 (mainly) women screamed and roared, drowning out those giant speakers, joyously and thrillingly all night, as they welcomed their chosen one back to the stage.
It has been five years since Swift played a full live concert but she more than made up for it on the opening night of a new world tour with one of the most ambitious, spectacular and charming stadium pop shows ever seen. Not to mention one of the longest.
Swift performed for three and a quarter hours, playing 44 songs in a set drawing on every corner of her phenomenal career, from her 2006 self-titled teenage country debut to last year's blockbuster set of sophisticated pop, Midnights. This kind of live marathon ventured into Bruce Springsteen territory, albeit with snazzier costumes and way more glitter. And that was the crowd too.
"I can see seven people dressed like mirrorballs," said an awed Swift, gazing from the edge of an extended runway at an audience who had really come dressed for the occasion. The Eras concert tour was designed to accommodate material from all 10 of Swift's albums, and fans dressed to express their favourites. Some came in the spangly dresses of 2014's mainstream pop breakout 1989, some in the vampish lycra of snappy dance album Reputation (2017) while the fairy-tale ball gowns of 2010's Speak Now seemed particularly popular with some pre-teen fans. Swift expressed comical surprise at "an alarming number of supposedly responsible adults dressed as sexy babies" (a lyrical reference to last year’s hit single Anti-Hero). Well, each to their own era.
That Swift attracts this kind of devotion is not just down to the fact that she knows how to put on a show, though she certainly does. There was an immense high-definition screen (on which she amusingly rampaged like Queen Kong over her tiny real-life self during Anti-Hero), confetti, pyrotechnics, indoor fireworks, flashing co-ordinated wrist bands and a hyperactive hydraulic platform stage. In a particularly remarkable illusion, the star appeared to dive into the stage floor then swim underwater across the stadium. It was fantastic fun, albeit what we have come to expect from state of the art concerts.
But at the centre of all the action was a 33 year-old who has earned the loyalty of her audience by writing smart, deep, beautifully crafted, catchy and heartfelt songs of real-life dramas. It probably helps that her own love life has, in the past, been turbulent. "It's no secret that my albums have been excruciatingly autobiographical," admitted Swift. "When I put them out it's like getting a public autopsy."
Yet it turns out that Swift has a real gift for making the personal universal. To watch this massive audience sing along to every line of Swift's wordy narratives (including a 10-minute spin through the bitterly beautiful All Too Well) as if they were all singing to themselves was an inspiring reminder that pop remains a vital medium of mass communication like no other.
There's a vast span to Swift's oeuvre, and it might be hard to conceive how she could find common ground between the wide-eyed pop swagger of such mega hits as Blank Space, Bad Blood or Shake It Off with the sensuous folktronica of more delicate songs from her pandemic albums Folklore and Evermore, such as Cardigan or Betty. Yet the crowd sang everything, all night, and never flagged. Songs this good almost do Swift's work for her. Almost. Swift is the shining conduit, with considerable musical skill, impressive vocal ability, unflagging energy and a real generosity of spirit. I wouldn’t wish to labour comparisons with Springsteen because she is on a unique trajectory, but Swift is definitely her own boss.
Taylor Swift is on tour in the US until Aug 9