w/ Phoebe Bridgers, Gracie Abrams
Nissan Stadium; Nashville, TN
May 5-7, 2023
Taylor’s Swift‘s Eras Tour- one of the most epic and ambitious stadium tours in musical history- took over Nashville over the weekend, returning the superstar to Nissan Stadium nearly five years after it hosted her Reputation Tour, the longest gap between shows since she first moved to Music City in the early 2000s. A career-spanning, immersive love letter to fans, across three nights of shows Swift broke attendance records, hosted special guests, made big announcements, and even braved troublesome weather to deliver the most stunning, technically impressive, and unbelievably varied performance we’ve ever seen her play, with mind-boggling energy and stamina that puts her in a very small class of artists willing to crack the three-hour mark every single night. We managed to catch two of the three Nashville performances, and left even more in awe than we expected after the outpouring of praise from the last couple months of dates; read our full review and check out photos below!
Although I live not far from Nissan Stadium, I still didn’t know what to expect with crowds and traffic with not only the hundreds of thousands of Swifties, but also graduations and events all across Nashville over the weekend. Though I was met with swarms of fans around the stadium, crossing the walking bridge, waiting for merch, and tailgating in anticipation, it was a pretty quick and fairly easy to get in and grab my seat early. I was in the same stadium for the Reputation Tour a few years ago, and I’ve seen Taylor in arenas many times over the years, dating back to the Fearless Tour. Still, and even thinking I knew what to expect, I was immensely impressed by the scale of the gigantic stage, the enthusiasm and attention to attire from so many attendees (something that has dramatically increased in the age of TikTok), and the palpable vibe that this was going to be something extra special. A bit of rain came down here and there early on Friday, but was much less an issue than reports had suggested (Sunday night would be a different story), causing the Eras-themed outfits to be briefly swallowed up in a sea of ponchos (Saturday, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more perfect weather).
By the time night one opener Gracie Abrams took the stage- at a punctual 6:30- Nissan was already mostly full, and attentive to the young singer, who largely kept the main part of the stage and played with a pretty minimalist band and production. Given the sprawling Taylor set to come, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the fast-paced opening sets, but Abrams’ felt especially short at just four songs. Her voice was amazing though, and her stage presence was heartfelt and endearing, if a little reserved (she did effectively get her start during Covid, so it’s wild to see her playing arenas already at all). A near tumble on the wet stage was a reminder that the rain was still coming down, but she recovered well and left me impressed and wanting to catch a full show in the future.
On the second night, local transplant turned viral breakout and Grammy nominee GAYLE took this opening slot, and absolutely blew me away. Alternating between playing guitar, bass, and simply tackling vocals with her energetic backing band, the teen artist delivered frenetic, almost pop punk, abridged renditions of some of her more popular tunes, as well as a lively cover of Elton John classic “Benny and the Jets.” At only 18, it’s unbelievable how confident and polished GAYLE already is live, quipping between songs, expressing a ton of gratitude, and even talking about how surreal it is to be opening this show, when as a young teen who’d just moved to Nashville, she had attended the Reputation Tour in the same spot just a few years ago, encouraging everyone to follow their dreams because they really can come true. She ended, of course, with breakout single “abcdefu” and was met with HUGE singalongs and a ton of enthusiasm for so early in the night.
I’m a gigantic Phoebe Bridgers fan- I think she’s one of the most talented songwriters on the planet right now- and of all of the super cool openers rotating throughout the Eras Tour, she’s the one I most wanted to see, so I was thrilled she was on all of the Nashville shows. I’ve seen Phoebe alone and in her various side projects several times over the years, so I knew what to expect, and I knew it was going to be amusing to see the reaction of fans who didn’t. Keeping her Punisher tour intro, Bridgers made what might’ve been the most metal entrance of anyone who’s ever shared the stage with Taylor Swift, throwing a death metal-style logo of her name in flames, and she and her band, clad in skeleton suits, entered the stage to Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness,” before setting the actual tone of the set with her haunting, folky fan-favorite indie tune “Motion Sickness.” Phoebe’s performance was more or less the same both nights, with the very notable addition of The 1975’s Matt Healy joining the band on additional guitar throughout the entire Saturday show (a fact barely acknowledged until band member introductions at the end).
Mostly performing tunes from Punisher– the whimsical “Kyoto,” the gut-wrenching “Moon Song,” and more- towards the end, Bridgers invited her supergroup boygenius bandmates Julien Baker (a Nashville local) and Lucy Dacus, hot off an acclaimed appearance at Coachella, out for a surprise song (“Not Strong Enough” the first night and “Cool About It” the second), and “the boys” stuck around to lend their voices to Phoebe’s “Graceland Too” and show-closer “I Know the End.” Something I’d seen performed similarly last year, the closing track takes on even more dynamic intensity live, with the audience joining in to scream and chant as Bridgers and her band get heavier and heavier (during the first, she ended it rolling around on the catwalk with Baker and Dacus) before finding a cathartic resolve. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to set the high energy bar for the performance to come, and I didn’t think I can get any more hyped to see boygenius again this summer at Re:SET fest.
After a quick break, the screens lit up with a countdown clock and within minutes, Swift and her dancers emerged on stage, beginning the show with the Lover era and an abridged “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” into “Cruel Summer,” the stage drenched accordingly in dreamy pink and blue pastels (if you’re somehow reading this and don’t know; for this tour, the singer is performing songs from nearly every album in her career, grouped throughout the show in acts, or “Eras”). Given that her ambitious plan to host a series of Lover Fest shows in 2020, ultimately canceled due to Covid, this felt like a perfect way to start, with a nod to all of the new music she’s never performed live (I can’t think of another popular, contemporary touring artist who’s released four original albums between tours- not to mention two re-recorded ones- making this style of show practically a necessity). A multi-story piece of staging during “The Man” gave a first glimpse into just how intricate and technically impressive the stage and production are for this year, and after each song, it would seemingly morph into the next with screens and projections and physical bits of staging and props and doors that appeared to come out of nowhere all transforming in the blink of an eye.
After lovely, intimate renditions of more downtempo songs “Lover” and “The Archer,” members of Swift’s backing band (who spent the bulk of the show on the wings of the stage) walked out to join her for the Fearless era; reminiscent of the country pop days where her shows were more band-geared and hadn’t elevated to the current level of pop production and impressive theatrics. I’m around Swift’s age and Fearless was her first album I really related to (and first tour I saw her live), so it’ll always be sentimental for me. It’s also the first of her planned six albums being re-recorded in an effort to regain control of her masters, so it feels more resonant right now than it has in years. Though the older records, understandably, didn’t get as much space as the newer ones for this show, “Fearless,” “You Belong with Me,” and “Love Story,” elicited some of the loudest singalongs of the night, and sounded just as exciting and heartfelt and nostalgic as ever. As she moved from the main stage down to the very back of the catwalk, it also really showed off just how huge of a setup it was (one that only hits one city per week, as it takes a fleet of trucks to move), where nearly every seat in the house has a great view at some point in the performance.
I think evermore (and folklore) are absolutely inspired, bold, and masterful artistic departures, and certainly one of the biggest silver linings of pandemic-era artistic urgency. While, as a whole, they’re quite different from the rest of Taylor’s output, and would be ideal in a more intimate, paired down show setting (like The Ryman, though given the unprecedented demand for her stadium shows, I don’t see club shows being a realistic prospect anytime soon), I was still so curious and excited to see how she’d incorporate them here. First was the evermore era, which saw the stage transform into a haunting, earthy forest, as, by “willow” a cloaked Swift and her dancers (who, throughout the whole night, transformed into characters, acrobats, protagonists and villains, doppelgängers, and whatever else the show called for with stunning and quick expertise), holding glowing orbs, looked delightfully witchy. Though I may slightly prefer folklore as an album, I think the evermore songs resonated even better live, and the last, “tolerate it,” proved one of the most moving moments of the night, as Swift set a long table, before crawling across and singing with urgency to a dancer seated at the end, standing in for the song’s subject.
I still can’t wrap my head around the speed with which staging and costumes were changed between eras (I honestly think they were shorter than the breaks on the 1989 tour, which was a much less technical production), but after the haunting and serene evermore block, snake imagery and thumping synths indicated it was time for reputation. A record that seems wholly designed to be blasted on giant arena stages, these songs slapped just as much as I remembered from last tour, even if Swift herself seems to be in a much less fiery, urgently resolute place than she was back when she made them. As if the light-up, dynamic stage risers appearing from the ground and immersive lights weren’t impressive enough, for “Look What You Made Me Do,” the dancers all appeared in glass boxes dressed in outfits reflecting Swift’s many eras, utilizing the gigantic backing screen to appear even more flush with people as she roamed around the stage and interacted with them, while also giving stage time to the fans on the farthest edges.
If I had one criticism of the show- and it’s one I do understand was probably made simply for considerations of timing- it’s that it only makes space for a single song from Speak Now and none from her self-titled debut on the standard setlist. The debut, I suppose, makes the most sense, as it sounds the most unlike the artist she would become, and was made in her young teens (though it would be nice to get at least one track from it every night to feel like a complete exploration of her discography). Speak Now, I’m a little more surprised doesn’t get more space, especially since she announced it’s next up to a receive at “Taylor’s Version” at this very concert, but if she was only going to pick one cut, “Enchanted” is an excellent choice. Donning a flowing, sparkly gown- one of the night’s many, many beautiful and mesmerizing looks- “Enchanted” was, well, enchanting, and drew some of the loudest audience singsongs of the whole evening.
Just over a decade ago, Red is the album that really kickstarted Swift’s transformation into the pop icon she is today, and it still really holds up, especially as a juxtaposition of a young woman celebrating her 20s with joyous abandon with the more introspective, 30-something wisdom of her more recent work. On a stage, of course, covered in red and briefly donning the iconic lettered-tee look of that era, Swift and her dancers bounced around the entire length of the catwalk to upbeat performances of “22,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” (I noticed that for this tour, even when shortening some of the songs, she’s performing them extremely faithful to the recordings, vs. a more remixed take she’s tried on prior runs) before dialing it back and, each night in Nashville, inviting Phoebe Bridgers back out to perform Red (Taylor’s Version) “Vault” track “Nothing New” (notably, an addition to the set and not one of the two “surprise songs” which come later in the show). Though the Saturday show had a little technical hiccup, which created a chance for Bridgers to talk about how much Red meant to her at 18, both nights I caught were an extremely special and intimate moment, and seeing two of my favorite contemporary artists perform a duet was absolute a highlight of the entire remarkable show.
folklore and 1989 are probably my two favorite Taylor albums (though it’s hard to pick; her discography is stacked), and seeing them in a block towards the end of the show almost felt specifically tailored to me. Each era had really impressive staging, but I think the folklore production was my favorite of all, utilizing an entire cabin to recreate the woodsy, intimate vibe of the record itself and process that went into making it. On Friday (and, apparently, Sunday), this portion of the show began with the singer laying atop a moss-covered cabin, performing folklore opener “the 1.” For the Saturday show (and on earlier dates of the tour), the song was instead “invisible string,” a track which I absolutely love, and wasn’t expecting to get to see (I wonder if its mention of Centennial Park, where the city recently dedicated a bench to Swift, prompted her to bring it back for the night). There was a lot of variety to this portion, with the stage giving a sort of affluent, seaside New England American glamor for “the last great american dynasty” and eventually Swift venturing out to the end of the stage in a flowy, wind-swept gown for vulnerable tunes “my tears ricochet” and “cardigan.”
Clearly designed to perfectly tonally balance the breadth of her artistry, after that intimate, melancholy block of folklore came the lush pop bombast of 1989. It’s hard to believe that that album is turning ten next year, and I still think it’s a perfect pop album that sounds every bit as cool and contemporary today as it did back in 2014. It also made me extra nostalgic like Fearless, as it was the first tour I saw Taylor on after I moved to Nashville years ago. Performed largely in the middle of the stage, as risers appeared and disappeared, dancers rode out on Tron-esque glowing bikes and they and Swift donned neon golf clubs (which I couldn’t help but think looked like lightsabers) during “Blank Space,” before turning into a big dance line for “Shake It Off,” the straight bangers continued with “Wildest Dreams” and “Bad Blood,” wrapping up what, in another artist’s more truncated setlist, would perhaps be the “main” part of the show before a sort of encore- only, for the Eras Tour, there was much, much more to follow.
Though this tour basically keeps the same set each night (save for a few tweaks, like the aforementioned “the 1” for “invisible string,” or the addition of “Northing New”), a part that fans particularly look forward to is near the end, when two “surprise songs”- so far, different each and every night- are performed on an acoustic guitar and piano alone by Taylor on the far end of the stage, just feet from the crowd on the field. Given that this is essentially a hometown show (though raised in Pennsylvania, Swift has lived in Nashville in some capacity for the better part of the last 20 years), I assumed something special was in store, and on night one Taylor delivered with the surprise announcement that Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), her third album to be re-recorded, would arrive July 7, news which she immediately followed with a beautiful rendition of “Sparks Fly.” Then, after reminiscing about her time in Nashville as a young writer, first getting her start in music, she played “Teardrops on My Guitar” from her debut album on piano, making it one of the few shows where something from every record was performed. For night two, she treated us to an extra 1989 tune with an acoustic “Out of the Woods” and a piano rendition of Fearless favorite “Fifteen,” dedicated to her longtime friend and subject of the song, Abigail, who was in attendance (one of many famous friends who showed their support over the weekend, which also included Gigi Hadid, Lily Aldridge, Mariska Hargitay, Hayley Williams, and Reese Witherspoon, among others). And on the rain delayed night three, which I wasn’t there for, the extra songs were Midnights bonus track “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” featuring a surprise appearance from co-writer and producer Aaron Dessner, and another in honor of the upcoming Speak Now re-release, “Mine,” on piano. This bit was spoiled from me on TikTok, but this part of the show ends with Swift diving through the stage illuminated like water, with a graphic of her seemingly swimming back to the main stage projected upon the screen; another extremely cool technical feat.
Structured into acts that don’t exactly leave time or space for an encore, the evening’s last era, and something of a grand finale, was, of course, a long stretch of songs from Swift’s latest release, Midnights. A fair stylistic departure from folklore and evermore, which feels more like it picks up where Swift left off with Lover, Midnights has really grown into one of my favorite of her releases, and its singles are particularly strong and varied, brought to life live with even more magnetism and stylish vibe. The whole Midnights era was perhaps the most varied of the show, beginning with a sort of moody, dream-like “Lavender Haze,” where Swift rose on platform as dancers circled her with clouds attached to ladders. With “Anti-Hero” she made an effort to sing from each far corner of the stage for fans in the farthest seats behind it, all while a Godzilla-esque clip of her played behind. For “Vigilante Shit,” Taylor and her dancers essentially performed a burlesque routine- probably the most risqué element of her tours to date, and something that has gone viral on TikTok. And with “Karma,” the era and show closer, confetti filled the stadium, fire shot from the dynamic production posts within the crowd (throughout the night, this series of high-tech rigs produced lighting, pyrotechnics, sound, and confetti; a really impressive technical setup), spotlights beamed like the Bat-Signal, and fireworks shot high into the air from behind the stage, capping off one of the most impressive, awe-inspiring, marathon performances I’ve ever witnessed with a fittingly grand and epic finale, all met with deafening applause and a sincere gratitude from Swift for such an enthusiastic and gigantic crowd.
Those who don’t listen to her music, or aren’t pop fans, might try to undersell Taylor Swift’s artistry and impact, but when you look at everything she’s achieved artistically, commercially, and in the scope and success and ambition of her concerts over the years, she is, without a doubt, one of the greatest and most accomplished musical artists of all time. And now, 10 albums and 17 years into her career, having sold out arenas as far back as her teens and graduated to multiple nights at the nation’s largest stadiums, it couldn’t be more fitting to celebrate her in this sweeping, epic, career-spanning fashion; if anyone has earned an “Eras” Tour, it’s Swift, and there are few artists alive who could pull off anything quite like it. While, as I stated, I didn’t attend the Sunday show, it’s worth mentioning that it was something unique- for better and for worse- and another testament to Swift’s perseverance and dedication to her fans. After two nights of pleasant weather, the week’s forecasted storms finally caught up for the third and final show, forcing a rain delay of several hours, which caused the openers to be cut and for Taylor to take the stage after 10 p.m.- more than two hours late. Most artists would’ve called it by then, or, at best, played a shortened set, but Swift- as the rain continued to pour down- delivered her entire more than three-hour show to its full scope and production, ending at nearly 1:30 in the morning. While, I understand, the delay and the shelter in place conditions weren’t ideal, the difficulty and cost, and the distance many fans surely had to travel for this performance, made the fact that she willed it to happen as planned something really admirable and amazing, and getting to share that rainy, late-night experience undoubtedly made it one of the tour’s most unique performances.
I’m hoping it won’t be another five years until we see Taylor’s return home to Music City (and, barring another global pandemic, I don’t expect it to be). Given the prolific tear she’s been on for the past several years though, who knows how many albums could arrive between now and then. It’s hard to imagine another tour one-upping the grandeur of the Eras Tour, but if anyone has the ability to endlessly surprise us, it’s Taylor Swift.
All photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince
You Need to Calm Down
You Belong With Me
’tis the damn season
…Ready for It?
Don’t Blame Me
Look What You Made Me Do
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
I Knew You Were Trouble
All Too Well (10 Minute Version)
the 1 [May 5 & 7]
invisible string [May 6]
the last great american dynasty
my tears ricochet
Shake It Off
Sparks Fly [May 5]
Teardrops on My Guitar [May 5]
Out of the Woods [May 6]
Fifteen [May 6]
Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve [May 7]
Mine [May 7]