Country prodigy shows she's coming of age

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune

(Published February 4, 2008


It's possible that the 1,800 teenagers at the Taylor Swift concert were louder than the 18,000 teenagers at last month's Miley Cyrus concert. And what were they screaming about?

Just about everything Swift did, said, played and sang. At Friday's sold-out show at Joliet's Rialto Square Theatre, the 18-year-old country music sensation carried on like the Grammy nominee she is. (She's up for best new artist.)

Starting with a pink acoustic 12-string, she tore through a few songs off her double-platinum debut album. "I wanna play y'all a song I wrote in the 9th grade," she said. "Our Song," a charming story about falling completely into young love, just spent six weeks at the top of the country charts.

Then out came the revenge songs: tunes such as "Should've Said No," "Teardrops on My Guitar," and "Invisible." Her themes stayed the same throughout the concert either boys rock, or the opposite but, musically, Swift was able to show off more range than she has when performing as opening act for a major headliner.

If it weren't for Ben Clark by her side, fans might have forgotten that Swift was all country. Clark didn't let that happen, with his rapid-fire banjo solos, percussive mandolin work and lazy slides on the dobro guitar. The other five band members all did their parts, but it was Clark's bold bluegrass instrumentation that gave credibility to Swift's standing as a true country prodigy.

The 13-song set reprised the track list off her album, with one out-there exception. She sent the band away for her solo acoustic take on Rihanna's "Umbrella." Vocally, Swift managed to tackle the insurmountable. But the sexy R&B beat disrupted the traditional country groove, making the cover feel like an intruder.

The last song of the night was the clean-but-still-rowdy version of Swift's newest single, "Picture To Burn." After which she promised to "sign every single autograph for everyone in here." And she did, staying in the lobby from 9:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. to do so.

If her past success is any indication, Swift has a long future in country music. So signing nearly 2,000 autographs was a smart move especially for someone who's still a high school senior.

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