The sound was unlike any I've ever heard before. Incredibly shrill, impossibly loud and with a sustained intensity that implied the hordes were working in shifts to achieve the lengthiest possible shriek. And we were only watching Hot Chelle Rae.

This was the final show of Taylor Swift's 111-date Speak Now tour, and the majority of the room had pre-banked this as the best night of their life to that point. The crowd was awash with home made t-shirts and signs, with many more two-or-three-days labour banners binned out front (including this beautifully rendered heartbreaker: 'I came from Fiji to see you!'). Swift's fans mightn't have a name attached to them like Gaga's 'little monsters', but they can step to anyone for mad, expressive fandom.

When she came out the room exploded, and she opened super-strong, picking the pop-rock-country nuggets from Speak Now like Sparks Fly (through a hail of sparking fireworks - Swift is nothing if not hyper-literal) and Mine. The stage set is ludicrously opulent, festooned with trapezes, a bridge, a ballustrade, all in ornate fairytale style. Which is to say that unlike many touring artists, Taylor spends the money you pay for tickets, rather than banking it. (And makes it back in pre-show commercials, which are a little jarring, but very forgivable).

The general feel of the show is that of a dreamy, old-fashioned kid who has been given the chance to bring her pre-adolescent fantasies to life. It's a cloyingly romantic vision, and at times can get a little too sugary, but the scale of it is remarkable - as a production it dwarfs any other arena show I've witnessed - it feels beyond music, so deeply woven are the theatrical and balletic elements.


The set heats up and stays strong with Back to December, Mean and Speak Now, all of which pop ferociously, songs so stark and clear there is no room for ambiguity or nuance. With other artists the tendency can feel lazy and unrepresentative of reality - but with Swift, it's precisely the world as she has always seen it, and she's fought to let it retain those qualities for herself and her fans.

One of the best things about the show is how inclusive it feels - like she would sing personally for everyone on the arena if she could - and she runs straight through the crowd to a tree nestled behind the sound-desk at one point, giving those in the nosebleed seats as good a view as the flash ones at the front. Up close, she's like a porcelain doll, like a flawless human manufactured in a lab. On anyone else that would be immensely irritating, but on her all the starry-eyed adoration of the crowd feels like it's being entirely reciprocated, however improbable that might sound.

The night dips a little with some of the maudlin balladry which remains her weakest suit - the likes of Dear John and Safe & Sound - before elevating obscenely to a closing rendition of Love Story, her greatest hit, and one that sees her swung through arena on a balcony made for one, the Juliet to our 10,000 Romeos (I know! But if you were there...).

Filing out, the atmosphere is surprisingly quiet and subdued, the crowd emotionally spent and hoarse from the shrieking. The one thing abundantly clear to all concerned was that we're unlikely to witness a show like that again in a long, long time. Maybe ever.

Who: Taylor Swift
Where: Vector Arena, Auckland
When: Sunday 18 March

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