To hear Taylor Swift tell it, Friday's first of two back-to-back shows at Lincoln Financial Field on her Reputation Stadium Tour marked a momentous occasion.
"I'm actually from Reading, Pennsylvania," said the 28-year-old pop star, who grew up on a Christmas tree farm outside of that Berks County city in the suburb of Wyomissing. "So ladies and gentlemen, this is what I call a hometown show."
This particular Friday also happened to fall on the 13th, which the songwriter and increasingly confident show woman noted was the "sickest, luckiest number." (She was born on Dec. 13.)
Being back in her neck of the woods gave Swift — who also reminded an intensely enthusiastic crowd already well acquainted with the details of her biography that she spent her childhood summers in Stone Harbor — cause to reflect about where she came from, and where she's going.
And that was a good thing. The Reputation tour is in every way an impressively entertaining enterprise, a giant video-screen and exploding-fireball state-of-the-art production that finds Swift both floating above the audience and down on the ground pressing the flesh as she moves among three stages over the course of a two-hour, briskly paced set.
(Swift hit the stage at nightfall, right around 9 p.m., and if you want to be there for opening acts Charli XCX, a Brit songwriter with a knack for bold pop hooks, and former Fifth Harmony "Havana" rising star Camila Cabello — and you should — you need to be in the building by 7.)
Size matters on the Reputation Stadium Tour, which is named after her 2017 hard-edged, less-inviting-than-usual sixth album, which nonetheless continues a streak of Swiftian pop-chart domination. Bigness is branded into the name of the tour, and Swift seemed intent on dropping the words stadium and sold out at every opportunity to remind us that nobody else out there on the road is filling football fields for two nights running. (Limited tickets do remain for Saturday night's show.)
But with bigness come complications. The days of Swift as an outsider — a country-singing, precocious teenage sweetheart attempting the difficult transition to pure pop stardom — are long gone. Nowadays she's an overdog, making music that increasingly borrows performance gestures from hip-hop and mechanized modern pop in songs that obsess over her haters.
The strange part of the show's staging has to do with the preponderance of snakes. There are images of them on the 172-foot-wide main video screen and giant animatronic ones that rose creepily above the two auxiliary stages, with eyes afire.
Swift said not a word about them during the show. But she's explained herself at previous tour stops: The proliferation of limbless reptiles is in reference to her getting social-media-bombed with snake emojis after she was cast as a villain in a 2016 episode of her never-ending conflict with Kanye West, as well as her breakup with Scottish deejay Calvin Harris that year. Owning the epithet and attempting to turn the insult into her favor, the idea is to turn the hissing vipers back on the bullies, and use them as a symbol of strength.
As a stage motif, it's elaborate and overworked. But the hissing vipers do look kind of cool.
Instead of unpacking all of that, Swift wisely used her between-song time to connect in a more human way with her fans, who were overwhelmingly female, more diverse than you might think, and ranged from early elementary school girls going to their first concert ever (and their moms) to Swift's own demographic cohorts who have grown up with her over her 12-year career.
Before the show Friday, Swift had gone back to her childhood home in Wyomissing, and the visit seemed to have put her in a contemplative mood. "Lately I get mesmerized by the passage of time," she said, and talked about getting emotional while being back in her old stomping grounds, where longtime fans might have heard her sing at a state fair or seen her perform the national anthem at a 76ers game in 2002.
"I've been writing songs about my feelings my whole adult life," she said, understating the case, since she started when she was 12. As if to demonstrate the point, she pulled out the one surprise selection of the night during a solo acoustic-guitar interlude: It was the poignant "Never Grow Up," from 2010's Speak Now, about wishing a moment in time could be frozen, from both a parent's and a daughter's perspective.
Quieter moments like that, and a solo-piano version of Reputation's "New Year's Day," served as correctives to the show's big production-number blowouts, like the absurdly over-the-top Vegas-style staging of the love song "King of My Heart."
But Swift is such a polished performer at this point that many of those big production numbers come off flawlessly, like the gothic-rock hysteria of Reputation's "Don't Blame Me" or the foolproof songwriting on display in such nods to the earlier, still-country-leaning stage of her career on the irresistible mash-up of "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me."
Swift's increasing focus on the state of her brand and the haters aligned against her — essentially a story about the trials and tribulations of fame, updated for the social-media age — has made her more difficult to relate to.
But she's still such an effective song constructor that her big, bold melodies pull the listener in, and she's fully committed to and engaged with her material, a pro's pro who thrives in the spotlight.
Even aggressively quasi-industrial tracks like "… ready for it?" — which opened the show after Joan Jett & the Blackhearts' "Bad Reputation" was played — have sweet spots at the center that delivered dollops of pleasure. And of course, "Shake It Off," performed with both Charli and Cabello (the latter wearing a Carson Wentz Eagles jersey), was, as always, an effervescent earworm that won't be denied.
Still, at the Linc Swift seemed conscious of her predicament as one of the world's biggest pop stars who's in danger of being isolated by her success.
The strategy to solve the problem involves re-upping her connection with her fans, which she stressed in talking about how much she values before- and after-show meet-and-greets. And it also included an apparent urge to run away from it all, which could be heard both in the nostalgia for childhood in "Never Grow Up" and Reputation's most straightforward, least conflicted song, which she performed with her image projected over 40-foot-high images of vast, beautiful empty spaces in the American West in an old-fashioned escape fantasy. It's called "Getaway Car."