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TAYLOR SWIFT: The Eras Tour, Melbourne Cricket Ground 16/02/24

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Photo Credit: TAS Rights Management

Before you get on your high horse about HEAVY reviewing a Taylor Swift concert allow me to point out a couple of facts.

1) Dragonforce have covered her song Wildest Dreams on their upcoming album Warp Speed Warriors.

2) Our own Screaming Jets have covered the track We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.

3) I promised my eldest daughters that if Frontier Touring accepted my request to review the show I would take them.

Besides, have you EVER read a metal reviewer’s take on what is undoubtedly one of the biggest musical productions in the world EVER?

Months ago both of my daughters (Scarlett – 9 and Katana – 7) asked if I would take them to see Taylor Swift on The Eras Tour and I told them I would apply to review and if accepted I would fulfil their wish.

I honestly did not expect to be even considered, let alone accepted, but last Thursday an email arrived from Frontier Touring saying I was approved for the following and opening night’s performance at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

My excitement for the girls quickly turned into a conundrum as the plus 1 part of the reviewer’s pass sunk in and I realized I could only take one of them.

After conferring with Uncle Wayno (Katana’s godfather) and the girl’s mother we decided to pose the question hypothetically of what would happen if Dad got approval but could only take one child. This was crunch time because there was no way I was going to choose so if the girls couldn’t knuckle it out amongst themselves then Dad was spared a trip to Melbourne.

But Katana graciously – and beautifully – said her big sister could go because it would mean more to her, in an act of selflessness and generosity that made me love that little girl even more than I already did.

So now I had to figure out how to actually get us to Melbourne the following day at the height of Swift Mania. A quick check of flights revealed it would cost $1000 each to fly one way, with accommodation starting at around $400 per night. Long story short, I scoured flights to nearby destinations and the only option that was financially doable was to fly to Canberra on Friday morning, hire a car, drive seven hours to the show, and then fly back home from Canberra the following afternoon. I booked an Air Bnb near Wodonga which is about 3 hours the Canberra side of Melbourne and some $1500 later (as opposed to 3k plus flying in and out of Melbourne) our flights, transport and accommodation were booked!

We arrived in Melbourne around 6.30 pm after a long drive – of which I let Scarlett have the final 90 minutes of pop on the stereo – and what was not even on the radar just 24 hours earlier was now a full-blown reality! We parked up at the Melbourne markets and set about trying to navigate the tram system to the G but to be safe I asked a group of three girls who were obviously going to the concert if we could follow them so we didn’t get lost. They agreed and befriended Scarlett, giving her the first friendship bracelet of the night which read ‘I’m drunk’ (which is apparently a line in one of Swift’s songs so I wouldn’t get arrested for supplying alcohol to a minor). The tram was packed and when three teenage boys got on and brought out a mini speaker I had a strange feeling they were going to play some rap crap or something just as inappropriate but they shocked the fuck out of me by playing a Taylor Swift song which got everybody – except me – on the tram singing along. It was the first indication of just how maniacal fans of this girl are and what I was getting myself into by going.

We followed the three girls all the way to the gate and went to the designated media area to collect our tickets. Scarlett kept asking me how good our seats were going to be to which I kept telling her I had no idea but secretly not wanting to tell her reviewers seats were generally okay but not to expect too much for free.

That whole process went smoothly and upon entering we were (as was everyone) given cloth bracelets with a rectangular section that we were told would light up during the show, but more about that later.

With each security-manned entry point we passed through Scarlett’s excitement grew and before long we were led to row M, directly front center of the stage! We were 13 rows from the front with more than a couple of diehard Swifty’s looking quizzically in my direction. I should point out here that I went with my HEAVY shirt on with Aussie Fucken Metal on the back so I stood out like an over-proportioned set of dogs bollocks.

The outfits worn by most of the crowd as well were incredible, with sequin tops and dresses as well as sparkling get-ups of all colours and lengths which made it just as much of a fashion show as it did a concert.

After taking our seats Scarlett and I both took the time to soak in the atmosphere and spectacle and I can honestly say I have never experienced anything like it in my life. And you know I have been to more than a couple of gigs. People were already crying and shaking in anticipation and the sense of belonging and love of music was incredible.

I even saw one – only one – other person with visible tattoos but it was comforting to an extent when the two empty seats next to us were filled by Casper and his partner (sorry for forgetting the name, to be honest I didn’t actually hear it over the crowd) from Silver Tiger Media. Casper looked just as lost as I was so we soon exchanged pleasantries amid mutual respect of our willingness to be exposed to music many of our friends and peers would laugh at us for.

Not that we gave a fuck, but it’s always nice to have a partner in crime or someone to look to for comfort when you have no idea what the fuck the rest of the crowd are yelling about.

The stage was huge and spread out from where the goals would have normally been to about center wing, flowing in all directions to enable Swift to engage with all corners of the audience. The screens flashed images that appeared to have 3D capabilities before a massive clock face filled the screen and started the countdown to what had already been billed as the concert event of the year.

As the clock struck zero a couple of dancers emerged from nowhere, casually supporting parachute-type flags of reds and oranges that played childishly through the air and gradually filled up more of the stage as the pair approached the front of the assembled dance floor.

Swift herself appeared – and when I say appeared I mean came rising out of the stage – and the crowd erupted as one with the loudest screams of adulation I have ever heard. Period.

It was almost deafening and to look around and see people crying with happiness and leaping into each others arms in pure emotion is a sight I have not seen before.

Cameras captured every movement and facial expression on the big screen as Swift ventured to all vantage points of the stage, soaking in the atmosphere and love directed her way from 96,000 fans – apparently the largest crowd she has played to. I thought Slipknot crowds were invested in the experience but this was next level. I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Launching into Cruel Summer – one of only four songs I knew for the whole set – the crowd sang as one, dancing, hugging, smiling and crying in one mass moment of unity that epitomizes what a concert experience should be.

I don’t care if you are watching Slipknot or Pantera or Taylor Swift, if you aren’t affected by the chemistry created by a united outpouring of emotion then you should be at home watching the show on DVD.

Swift took another minute or so to soak in the adulation before telling us that she was “just taking a mental picture for myself in case I am ever feeling sad”. I have seen hundreds of gigs in my time and interviewed thousands of musicians so it is fair to say I have an idea when someone is being genuine or going through the motions and Taylor Swift was not phoning in one minute of heartfelt love and appreciation. That’s when I realized she was the real deal.

I admittedly knew less than nothing about Swift going into the show. Yes, I had read some of the negative press and social media rants about her not being good for music or not singing her own songs or having secret desires to promote witchcraft through her live performances. But I had not yet formed my own opinion of her as either a person or artist. I only knew Scarlett loved her and that meant for now, at least, so did I.

But here, less than 10 meters in front of me, stood an artist who didn’t care what others thought or said. She knew the reasons behind her life and her music and why she was here. And that was to put on the best show possible for those who believed enough to come and see her live.

Even in the opening moments, the way Swift owned and dominated her section of the MCG was impressive. She oozed confidence with an air of self-belief that was infectious beyond just the teenage fans who filled the sporting ground. I took my first look towards my new ally Casper who had the same look of newfound respect as I did, so I knew I wasn’t just getting caught up in the moment.

After about three songs Scarlett, still overwhelmed by the first song, needed a toilet break, and watching her tiny body rush and sidestep through the crowd to relieve herself and get back to her seat as quickly as possible was a beautiful thing. Waiting for her outside of the toilets I looked to the bar – normally full of thirsty eventgoers no matter the occasion – and to my surprise found it empty. Not one person waiting for a drink! And that was when the magnitude of what music can do to people sunk in. Try going to watch any AFL game and walking straight up to the bar at any stage and you will get what I mean.

As we got back to our seats Swift finished another song and left our view of sight only to return with a pink acoustic guitar. That she actually played. And played well.

It was then that I noticed Swift had a full band along for the show, with the drums and guitars situated in the top left corner of the stage and a percussionist set up on the other side. More respect.

The guitarist slid out for an impressive solo before an assortment of dancers joined Swift, filling up large parts of the stage with vibrance and colour. And guitar. The main thing I noticed about the dancers was they were treated as part of the show, not just a distraction. By that I mean they each contributed to the overall visuals of each track they performed in. But the biggest thing I took out of the contributions from the ‘supporting cast’ was the way they were treated by Swift. I have seen many gigs where the backup dancers are merely eye candy or treated as cannon fodder but Swift seemed to treat them all with respect and dignity, making them just one more important cog in an entertainment machine that although dominated by one performer, was actually a success because of the contributions of the whole cast and crew.

Even the different outfits – of which there were many – all seemed to accentuate the theme or performance they were worn for. Not once did Swift give off the impression of using her sexuality to sell her music. She changed from short-cut outfits to dresses to tights and leg-ins to shorts and a crop top and much more during the evening and there wasn’t one wolf whistle from the crowd or masculine shouts of wonderment. Just universal respect and acceptance that the costumes were part of the performance and nothing else.

More respect.

After finishing the next song I knew – You Belong To Me – the large stage screens transformed into an enchanted forest of sorts as actual trees rose from the stage adding to the effect. To the rear left of stage sat Swift, resplendent in a flowing full-length dress that reflected the colours of the forest, delicately poised behind a piano that was also adorned with the colours of vegetation.

She gave an extended speech to the crowd where I found out this was her first visit to Melbourne since 2018 and she has released a staggering 4 albums in that period, each of which was being represented on the Eras Tour. She repeated her appreciation for everyone’s love and support before playing a couple of piano numbers that at one stage had the crowd thrusting their mobile phones in the air with the torch on to create a sea of light to accentuate the mood.

Scarlett swiped my phone and held it aloft and I had to smile when I saw that I still had my AAA Murderdolls pass stuck to my phone case so in my own twisted way I figured my daughter was still representing metal at a Taylor Swift show.

Small victories are still important.

The forest images changed to a landscape filled with ice and cold before Swift left the piano and paced the stage once more, engaging as many of her loyal supporters as possible.

And that’s when it happened. The moment that vindicates any notion as to why HEAVY should be reviewing a Taylor Swift concert.

Nearing the front of stage where we were sat, Swift went on all fours during the song (no idea what it was) and looked in my direction – I swear, honestly – and, as captured on the big screen by her camera team, shot me the metal horns in a loving moment of acceptance that I was almost sure was all in my head. I quickly shot a glance to Casper and before I said anything he fired “yep, I saw that too” in my direction.

Taylor Swift had just raised the horns to metal!

Whether it was, in fact, directed at the sole guy in a black T-shirt with HEAVY emblazoned on the front is a matter of conjecture, but I will swear to my last breath we shared that moment together and no one – not even Scarlett – can take that away from me.

Katana called on video messenger during Champaign Problems so thankfully got to experience part of the concert which filled my black heart with warmth. Scarlett held the phone throughout the song to share that moment with her younger sister and once more I felt an overwhelming feeling of love towards my children that it took Taylor Swift to elicit.

The next phase of the show was from the Red album and it pleased me no end to see Swift step back onto the stage wearing a red and black outfit. I’m sure most people will tell you that outfit was worn only in keeping with the theme of the album but I will argue it’s because Swift is a Bombers supporter. Which is another tick in the yes column.

She plowed through We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together and Look What You Made Me Do before doing the impossible and making it snow at the MCG! Now I know there is some sort of science in pulling these things off and it is likely an easy thing to do by the trained professional, but this was at the MCG. With no roof or machines to circulate the snowflakes.

The look on Scarlett’s face, as she felt the first snowflake hit her shoulders and looked up to see the sky filled with white sprinkles of fake snow, was priceless. Just when she thought it couldn’t get any better.

Another thing worth mentioning is the wristbands I said we were all given earlier. Somehow they were all pre-programmed to flash different colours at various junctures of the show. So there were washes of reds, greens, blues, and whites that sporadically lit up the G, with some set to opposing variations for greater effect. It was a magnificent visual spectacle each time the lights sparked on and gave another insight into the thought and planning that went into this tour.

All of the smaller things like the light bands, the friendship bracelets, and the snow, were all finishing touches to enhance the overall experience but none of them were necessary. The show would have still been awesome without these subtle additions but the fact Swift and her team realized the importance of going that extra step is further proof of their commitment to the fans.

With about 30 minutes to go, I suggested to Scarlett that we pull stumps early and got a frightful reaction of a defiant NO. After explaining to her the difficulties we would face battling 96,000 people to leave the G and find transport – and bribing her with pizza – she reluctantly agreed to leave, albeit as slowly as she could possibly make it.

As we left the confines of the G we were met with thousands more fans who had assembled outside the venue to experience the magic of Taylor Swift and it was refreshing to see police and security allowing them to crowd the area without moving them on.

Scarlett slipped into an exhausted coma pretty much as soon as we got back to the car for the three-hour drive to our room so I turned to my Taylor – Corey Taylor – for comfort on the long drive out of Melbourne.

Would I ever buy a Taylor Swift album after this? Probably not, unless it was for my daughters.

Would I ever go and see Taylor Swift live again? Probably yes, even without my daughters.

Some of you might still find it strange, even blasphemous for HEAVY to review a Taylor Swift concert but let me leave you with this tale.

Many years ago a good friend urged me to think outside of my narrow musical box and learn to appreciate all genres of music. This, he said, was the only way for me to truly appreciate music and at the time I wrote his thoughts off as bullshit.

But after going about as far out of my box as I could possibly get for this concert I can finally say I understand where he was coming from.

Music means so many different things to so many different people, and when you can appreciate music for how it makes others feel then you can fully appreciate how it makes you feel.

I left for Melbourne as a father doing the right thing by his daughter and over the course of the next day and a half reluctantly became a 24-hour MetalSwifty. And that had nothing to do with Scarlett.

Big thanks to Andy and the team at Frontier Touring for not only making Scarlett’s dreams come true but also for allowing HEAVY to cover the show. I can only imagine what sort of review they thought they would get which makes the fact they allowed us access even more special.

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