BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
HOUSTON – A few songs into her set, Taylor Swift uttered a phrase sure to devastate her fans this year: “As far as I know, I’m only doing one show in 2017…this is that one show.”
She was speaking from the stage of Club Nomadic, the 9,000-capacity pop-up venue a few miles from downtown Houston that hosted Bruno Mars and The Chainsmokers with Sam Hunt the previous two nights.
Unlike those concerts, Swift’s pre-Super Bowl show was an invite-only gathering sponsored by DirecTV Now (the pop superstar recently launched her Taylor Swift NOW project with the company) and no shortage of marquee sports and entertainment names strolled the red carpet before her 11:30 p.m. kickoff.
Peyton and Eli Manning, John Legend, Thomas Rhett, Kirk Cousins, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Chris Evans, Tim Tebow and Ruby Rose (who spun a wicked DJ set prior to Swift’s arrival) all came to, presumably, sing along with Swift’s well-varnished pop songs.
She didn’t scrimp on the production, which featured her large band, a catwalk leading to a circular stage and a massive video screen that alternated between images of a sweat-laden, hard-working Swift and digital effects.
“Oh, hi. I’m Taylor,” she said with an impish smile after the opening rush of “New Romantics.”
“You are the people who come from all over the world, possibly to see some football. But would it be all right if we play some music first?” she asked with a blink of her glittery eyelids.
Swift, in her short, black fringed dress and black ankle boots, is such a poised pro on stage that she merely has to flip her now-shoulder-length hair or give a coquettish look into the camera for her fans to swoon.
And she gave them plenty of fodder, from the gentle stomp of “22” to the rocked out “Style” to the jewel in her expanding catalog, “Blank Space.”
While it was difficult to discern what she was saying once she grabbed her acoustic guitar and headed to the smaller stage for an intimate set of songs, it was apparent to Swifties that they were getting a special dose of tune-age.
Swift unveiled her new song with Zayn Malik from the “Fifty Shades Darker” soundtrack, the moody “I Don’t Want to Live Forever,” played live for the first time. She also offered an acoustic version of Calvin Harris’ “This is What You Came For” and played, also for its inaugural live outing, the hit she wrote for Little Big Town, “Better Man.”
We’ll leave it to speculation if the song is about Harris or her other recent ex, Tom Hiddleston, but her narrow-eyed glare into the camera on the closing line, “We might still be in love, if you were a better man,” would make both of those guys quake.
Swift grinned through “Red” and brought out her hip-cocking attitude and exaggerated eye rolls for “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” before leading the giddy crowd through more singalongs, such as “Bad Blood” and “Love Story.”
Swift might well be taking the year to work on her next album and while she might not be as visible, at least fans can be assured that a new cycle will soon begin.