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Taylor Swift paints town red

Sellout crowd of screaming fans really, really like country-pop star

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Taylor Swift made sparks fly at a sold-out show at Investors Group Field on Saturday night.

The Winnipeg stop on the country-pop star's Red tour, in support of her 2012 album of the same name, was the first concert to be held at the new stadium.

And what a show it was.

Don't let Swift's rosy-cheeked, aw-shucks act fool you; as she proved with her lavish two-hour show Saturday night, America's sweetheart is a commanding, confident performer. Swift is a bona-fide pop star.

As an artist, she's also a bit of an chameleon, a point that's well-documented on Red. The album is a brave, bold stylistic departure for Taylor, and the accompanying stage show, which draws heavily from the record, is equally as bold-strokes, with no shortage of thrilling choreography, double-digit costume changes and killer vocal acrobatics. There was no lip-synching here, folks, although it'd be easy to be fooled by her spot-on, seamless performances.

Opening with an appropriately stadium-sized track of the latest album, the anthemic, fists-in-the-air State of Grace, she appeared in silhouette behind a red curtain before the big reveal. It was a spectacle -- you gotta love pyrotechnics seven minutes into a show -- and it set the bar high. Clad in a bowler cap, a white-button-down shirt, black-leather hotpants and bright-red loafers, she mugged for the Jumbotrons, flashing a steely gaze before breaking into a wide "oh my gosh I can't believe you're here" grin.

OK, so she's still the adorable pixie whom birds possibly help get dressed in the morning.

See, the thing about Taylor Swift is that she really, really wants you to like her. Her stage banter was self-effacing and charming, but it was more than little scripted. "The craziest emotions are red," she said with a spectacularly well-timed flick of her hair, before grabbing a sparkly red guitar to rock out the title track.

From there, it was a veritable hit parade. Swift donned a sparkly cocktail dress and red elbow-length gloves to do a cute, Supremes-esque version of her super hit You Belong With Me, complete with backup dancers. It wasn't the night's only bit of winking theatricality: She walked a red carpet while old-timey news reporters tried to grab a shot during Lucky One (a hat-tip to Britney Spears, perhaps?). She sat on an antique trunk, plucking a banjo while talking about being picked on before launching into one of the night's few countrified numbers, Mean. For that one, she temporarily transformed IGF into the Grand Ole Opry, her backing band alongside her.

Then Swift shifted gears and went totally Top 40. She did Stay, Stay, Stay, which broke down into a clap-along sample of The Lumineers' Ho Hey, before slipping on a letterman jacket (costume change No. 6, for the record) for a fun, lighthearted rendition of the hipster-mocking earworm 22, which was easily the night's biggest crowd-pleaser. She made full use of the gridiron, her catwalk extending almost the length of it.

The frenetic, dubstep-inflected I Knew You Were Trouble, another radio dominator, was electrifying. Swift went uncharacteristically sexy for that one, her hyper-stylized white Victorian gown ripped off by her dancers to reveal a slinky black bodysuit.

Some of the show's best moments came when she stripped things down and just let her soaring voice hit its glorious highs. The dusk performance of All Too Well, one of Red's most stunning ballads, was the evening's best showpiece for her stunning pipes, but when she stopped playing to gaze, eyes full of real or put-on tears, out at the crowd, the moment was lost. Taylor, you don't have to try quite so hard. We already really, really like you. The screams during the epic show finale, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, were deafening.

English wunderkind Ed Sheeran opened the show to thousands of screaming fans. It's more than likely you've heard Sheeran's name a lot as of late; his 2011 debut, +, went quintuple (yes, quintuple) platinum in the U.K. and he's blown up big in North America. Accompanied by only his looping pedal, his 40-minute set, which included a soulful rendition of Nina Simone's Feeling Good, felt intimate despite its stadium setting. The A Team made for a soaring set closer, Sheeran's voice as clear as the sky overhead.

jen.zoratti@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2013 A3

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