‘Sparks Fly’ at Taylor Swift’s only 2016 concert at Formula One Austin

Taylor Swift performs her only full concert of 2016 during the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin on Oct. 22, 2016. (Suzanne Cordeiro/For American-Statesman)

Taylor Swift performs her only full concert of 2016 during the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin on Oct. 22, 2016. (Suzanne Cordeiro/For American-Statesman)

In a tightly packed 80-minute set that covered all the current hits and a host of back catalog faves, pop sensation Taylor Swift did not debut any new material as fans speculated she might at her Saturday night Formula One closing performance. But with fantastic vocal chops, perfectly choreographed stage routines that were artfully crafted to convey a sense of spontaneity and an uncanny knack for transmitting intimacy across a massive crowd, she deftly demonstrated exactly why she’s one of the biggest stars of her generation. This was Swift’s only performance of 2016, her first show since her “1989” tour wrapped last year, and it was ecstatically received.

» PHOTOS: Taylor Swift at Circuit of the Americas

“Oh hi, Austin, Texas… Welcome to F1 weekend,” Swift said, addressing the screaming masses with casual charm after opening with “New Romantics.” Backed by a five piece band and a trio of backup singers, she segued into “22” unleashing the first of several increasingly explosive fireworks displays that would augment her set. Then she dropped a bombastic rendition of “Blank Space” that began with a surprisingly lovely harmonized intro and an enthusiastic audience singalong.

She encouraged the audience to “Let go of anything that’s stressing us, sing at the top of our lungs and scream when we need to scream,” and the crowd happily obliged throughout the show.

Swift said the crowd for the show numbered 80,000 and gazing out across the massive throng that filled the field in the middle of the track, the figure seemed entirely plausible. Unlike past years when the Formula One musical entertainment has been a side attraction to the main event, many fans clearly shelled out for $150 three-day race passes specifically to see Swift. (There were no single-day Saturday general admission tickets sold.) Around 3:30 p.m., as the days’ race activities were beginning to wrap up, distinctively Swiftian crowds, loaded with young girls aplenty, were boarding shuttle buses headed toward the track.

The process of converting the grounds from race track to concert venue took somewhat longer than anticipated, and the gate to enter the lawn in front of the Superstage where Swift performed opened 35 minutes late. The crowd became restless and a demanding chant, “Taylor! Taylor! Taylor!” broke out at the front of the line shortly before the gates opened.

Once the lawn section started to fill out, families who opted to spread blankets in the middle to back section of the lawn fared better than those who attempted to navigate the crush of people in the front section where sight lines and breathing room were both tough to come by.

The stage was flanked by a pair of massive screens with a third screen as the backdrop. Visual effects on the screens were relatively minimal throughout the show. Primarily, they served a practical purpose: to transmit the detailed gestures and expressions Swift uses to conjure the many sides of her character, from sex pot to goofy homegirl-next-door, to the huge crowd.

The secret to Swift’s star power rests in how effectively she draws the audience in, with blown kisses and conspiratorial winks and sincere declarations about exactly how meaningful it is to spend her life “opening her journal and letting you read it.”

At one point, she strapped on an acoustic guitar and dipped into her back catalog, playing songs she said she usually leaves off her setlist including one of her earliest hits “You Belong With Me.” Later she sat at the sparkliest piano in the world for a suite showcasing her raw talent as a musician and songwriter that included passionate renditions of “Sparks Fly” and “Enchanted.”

She mashed up “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and “Bad Blood” in a furious one-two punch that made you shudder for anyone forced to face her withering wrath, but she saved the best message for her haters for the end.

“Do you want to dance?” she asked the audience, before taking the set out with an exhilarating rendition of “Shake It Off” accompanied by an astounding fireworks display that literally lit the night on fire.

There was no surprise album drop, no special guests and no encore, but it didn’t matter. The mood was ebullient as thousands made the long slog across the racetrack to the fleet of shuttles waiting to efficiently ferry them home.

Nicole Villalpando and Kristin Finan contributed to this report. 

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