REVIEW: Taylor Swift plays snake queen at Reputation Tour stop in Santa Clara

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Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift performs on the Reputation Stadium Tour at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on May 11, 2018. Photos: Steve Carlson.

SANTA CLARA — On her 2017 album Reputation, “the old Taylor” Swift is dead. But on the Reputation Stadium Tour, which arrived at Levi’s Stadium Friday for the first of two sold-out shows, Old Taylor is alive and kicking it with the new incarnation; the Taylor Swift whose image took a few punches in the superstardom spotlight from broken friendships, public breakups and the feud that inspired much of the narrative of the tour.

Taylor Swift
Camila Cabello, Charli XCX

7 p.m., Saturday
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara
Tickets: $95 and up.

The new Taylor Swift plays the role of snake queen, a badge—tossed at her by Kim Kardashian—that she wears proudly. The feud was ugly, made both women and Kanye West look bad, and quite frankly is not something to get into in a concert review. But it’s significant because Taylor Swift decided to take the insult and turn it into an alter ego, and turning each stadium on this tour into a snake pit.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift performs on the Reputation Stadium Tour at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on May 11, 2018

At the same time, the concert, just the second on this tour, gave Swift a chance to play both femme fatale and damsel, as some of her older songs, like “Style,” “Love Story,” “You Belong With Me” and “Shake It Off” found a way to coexist with “…Ready For It,” “I Did Something Bad” and “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Taylor Swift ascended the stage to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and a video reel of newscasters reporting on the pop star’s recent public image slip-ups. “Taylor Swift is in hot water again,” one disembodied voice declared.”

Oh, and before we go further, let’s talk about that stage. Initially resembling a stadium-sized Rubik’s cube with a horizon of crane-like structures, the thing would go on to transform, with giant screen panels moving up, down, left and right, at times revealing the band atop a large platform, a skeletal structure, a tunnel from which dancers and Swift made an entrance, and sometimes taking on the appearance huge scrolls (kind of like the artwork that worked with the branding for the new album). The stage was connected to two smaller platforms in the back of the stadium floor by cables that hoisted Swift above thousands of—the “how” was also impressive.

Camila Cabello

Camila Cabello performs on the Reputation Stadium Tour at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on May 11, 2018.

Back to the show. As nearly 20 dancers appeared on the stage, Swift existed the cube, which had separated along one of its sides. This was the “new Taylor,” who vamped across the stage on “…Ready For It” and “I Did Something Bad.” The song featured synchronized fireworks as Swift sang, “They burn all the witches even if you aren’t one,” obviously in reference to the image bashing she has felt in recent years. Following “Gorgeous,” it was old Taylor’s turn to play, with extended medley of the previously mentioned older cuts.

After a brief video interlude (the first of five) the humongous screen was filled up with three-story-tall cobras, which were still smaller than the inflated (yet pretty darn realistic) king cobra in the middle, with its mouth agape and fangs out. This was the setting to, “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Swift used a quieter moment to talk about the break between her new and previous albums, which she used to figure out what her life would be like if there wasn’t a spotlight always on it. Two other new cuts followed; “End Game” and “King of My Heart,” during which Swift rode a lit-up fairy tale-like gondola to one of the smaller platforms at the back.

Charli XCX

Charli XCX performs on the Reputation Stadium Tour at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on May 11, 2018

With the stadium awash in bright colors, Swift had her two openers, Charli XCX and Camila Cabello, join her on the platform for a rousing rendition of “Shake It Off,” as confetti rained down and another giant blow-up snake, this one happier looking, with his mouth closed and just a two-pronged tongue sticking out.

Two acoustic cuts followed, with Swift herself playing a guitar. That she plays really well should not come as a surprise for the former Nashville singer-songwriter. But the fact that she held a guitar for just the two songs, “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” and “Wildest Dreams,” was. She did later hop on a baby grand for “New Year’s Day.”

Anyway, following the two acoustic guitar songs, Taylor Swift made her way to the other B-stage like a mere mortal (or fallen angel): on her own two feet. That stage had it’s own inflatable snake, but if, by that point, it was unclear what motif Swift was going for, she was by then wearing a snakeskin-pattrerend dress. Following “Blank Space” and “Dress,” she hitched a ride back to the main stage on another gondola, but this one was more nightmare than fairytale: a snake skeleton. Fallen angel, indeed. By this point the show was reaching its zenith.

As “Bad Blood” roared to life, the screens on the stage structure seemed to spasm and separate like (spoiler alert) Nebula in the new Avengers movie. While there was no traditional encore, the last of six “acts” of the show crescendoed with “Getaway Car,” “Call It What You Want,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” The last batch of songs had more fireworks, pyrotechnics and another round of confetti.

What it didn’t have, unlike the tour opener a couple of days prior, was Swift explaining what inspired the snake motif. But now that she’s done that, it’s better for the songs to do the talking and for everyone involved to put their bitterness away.

Swift’s Reputation Tour features two outstanding pop star openers. Charli XCX was back to fine form as the first performer. The English singer-songwriter performed sans a traditional band but with two programmers and a percussionist. Her too-short set kicked off the night with “Boom Clap” and “I Love It,” her co-write for Icona Pop. She would go on to blast through “Break The Rules,” from way underrated album Sucker, a cover of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” a new cut, “Five in the Morning,” and “Boys,” the star-filled video for which quickly went viral.

Former Fifth Harmony singer Camila Cabello, making her second Bay Area appearance in a month, proved she is just as capable of commanding a stage as big as Swift’s as well as she did earlier at the Fox Theater in Oakland. Her nine-song set was all meat and no filler, starting off with “Never Be The Same” and running through the Latin-tinged “She Loves Control,” “Inside Out,” a cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and the Fastball-sampling “Bad Things.” She finished with her smash hit “Havana,” leaving the audience in the awkward position of being ready for Taylor Swift but at the same time wanting some more from Cabello.

Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter. Follow photographer Steve Carlson at Instagram.com/SteveCarlsonSF and Twitter.com/SteveCarlsonSF.

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