Taylor Swift Thrills Cardiff Audience With Ultra-Deep Cuts and a Greeting in Welsh: Concert Review

“I spend a lot of my time trying to plan these things,” Taylor Swift said with a grin — and with classic understatement — as she strapped on her acoustic guitar for the “surprise songs” segment of her “Eras” tour stop in Cardiff, Wales. “I like to challenge myself to do different things every night [so] every single show is unique.”

Considering the unprecedented levels of attention the tour has attracted since it kicked off in Glendale, Arizona, 100 shows and over a year ago, this seemed like a bold statement.

More from Variety

After all, nearly everyone in the 67,000-capacity Principality Stadium had almost certainly seen most of the show already, either in the cinema, on Disney+ or both, possibly over multiple viewings. Even the most casual observer — not that there seem to be any of those here, even the smattering of designated driver Dads presented as hardcore Swifties — will have caught key moments in news coverage or on the myriad of social media streams that proliferate around each show.

And true to form, Swift went the extra mile to make the Welsh Valleys girls (and boys) feel special: Not only did they get a bounty of surprise songs (more on that in a moment), she greeted them in the country’s native tongue. Welsh is one of the trickier European languages to master but her rendition of “Shwmae, croeso i daith Eras” (“Hi there, welcome to the ‘Eras’ tour”) certainly sounded authentic.

Indeed, some parts are so familiar that the crowd didn’t just sing along to the songs, they spoke along to some of Swift’s song announcements. A few even tried to pull the exact same face as Swift as she said them. When even your facial expressions have their own greatest hits compilation, what can you do to retain an element of the unexpected?

A lot, as it turned out. It’s to Swift’s eternal credit that, despite all the above, seeing the “Eras” tour in the actual flesh remains a mind-blowing, heart-stopping spectacle that feels as fresh as the Welsh mountain air.

The surprise songs help, of course. The concept of rotating different acoustic versions — one on guitar, one on piano — of songs from her catalog is a deceptively simple idea that nonetheless ensures everybody is invested with every single date on the tour, not just the one they’re going to (and literally invested as well, via her steady stream of re-releases of her latest album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” featuring exclusive recordings of those versions).

Waiting for one’s “Eras” date to come around becomes a game of musical “Deal or No Deal,” as fans hope there will still be plenty of your personal selection of high-value classics from the red side of the board in play by the time you take their seats.

Cardiff definitely got a “deal”: “I Forgot That You Existed,” from “Lover,” was mashed up with “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” from “Reputation,” complete with a hilarious take on the latter’s “I can’t even say it with a straight face” belly laugh.

And, just when fans were pondering the significance of that intriguing combination, Swift topped it by deftly combining a pair of deep cuts, “I Hate It Here,” from “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology” – a song she has never played live before – with “The Lakes,” the track found on the deluxe version of “Folklore.”

The delirious reaction from the crowd was a tribute not only to the depth of her back catalog but the fans’ commitment to it, but Swift’s genius is in making even the more recognizable elements of this fantastic show seem special.

In fact, Cardiff had a decent claim on being the most distinctive of all the 101 shows on the jaunt so far. This was the first ever Taylor Swift headline show in Wales – although she did appear just down the road in Swansea at a BBC Radio 1 festival in 2018 – and Cardiff is the only city where she’s played for one night only.

That’s not due to any lack of demand. The streets around the Principality Stadium – usually the home of Welsh rugby – were as packed with delirious fans, ticket holders or not, as they ever are on a Six Nations match day.

And nor was it due to an absence of affinity between Swift and the Welsh – after all, she is probably the only international pop superstar to ever reference Wales’ national sport in song, declaring: “You can find me in the pub/ We are watching rugby” on “London Boy” and even gave the original Welsh tortured poet, Dylan Thomas, a shout out on her latest album’s title track.

She also discussed her love of the “beautiful Welsh countryside” ahead of “Betty”, while a backing dancer interjected “Ych a fi” (which roughly translates as “disgusting”) during a rollicking “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and counted to four in Welsh during “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart.”

Swift got plenty back in return for such local commitment. The reception for “Champagne Problems” has grown throughout the U.K. leg of the tour, but the rapturous applause that followed it here and refused to die for almost four minutes seemed to stun even Swift, who must have seen most things a crowd can come up with by now.

“This crowd is one for the books,” she marvelled. “This is different.”

And no wonder. If tickets for the rest of the tour are the proverbial gold dust, ones for the Cardiff one-off date must have been diamond dust. Which meant everyone here was determined to wring every last drop out of the experience.

All around, mothers and daughters or groups of BFFs in classic Swift outfits (the “22” look seems to be the Era of choice for the moms) were in raptures. Tiny children in cowboy hats – whichever Welsh entrepreneur invested in pink Stetsons the last time Beyoncé left town will surely be retiring on the proceeds after tonight – swapped friendship bracelets with cool older girls keen to welcome them into the Swift sorority.

There were a lot of tears – the older Swifties may have been processing emotional trauma but, for some of the younger ones, Swift’s appearance in the same room appeared to have a similar effect to meeting “the real Santa.”

But there was also an enormous amount of joy in a stadium well used to hosting Welsh ecstasy and heartbreak. However well you think you know this set’s twists and turns, nothing can truly prepare you for watching total strangers bust out spontaneous synchronized dance routines during a jubilant “Bejewelled,” or multiple generations of female relatives putting aside concerns over bad language to scream “Fuck the patriarchy!” together during a devastating “All Too Well.”

There were too many onstage highlights to list, but take your pick from a version of “Style” that was as zesty as Swift’s lime green and orange outfit; a rendition of “Look What You Made Me Do” that rocked as hard as opening act Paramore; or a beautifully spooky presentation of “Willow”; as Swift breathed new life into even the most recognizable corners of the setlist, ensuring every single song earned its set piece status.

Meanwhile, the newest Era – “The Tortured Poets Department” – is already one of the set’s strongest. Swift smiled as she seemed to levitate above her dancers on a spinning glass block during an intense “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me” and, with delicious irony, threw herself completely into “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” complete with a preceding silent movie-style skit as her dancers cajoled her into getting dressed and getting back out there.

That song deals with her dancing through the heartbreak on earlier parts of the “Eras” tour but, tonight, Swift’s winning grinning felt authentically, wonderfully real, right down to her pronunciation of “Diolch o galon” (“Thank you from the heart”) as she finished the set.

Cardiff was also perhaps the only show on this leg of the tour to take place indoors. The stadium’s retractable roof – designed to protect Welsh rugby flair from the equally unpredictable local weather – was closed, despite it being possibly the only day of this typically soggy U.K. summer when it wasn’t raining outside.

That meant a more muted closing fireworks display, but also that the entire show took place in darkness. That gave the stadium an unusually intimate feel, something that Paramore – the sort of high-caliber support act only the Eras Tour can deliver – took full advantage of.

Hayley Williams made it clear she’s happy to be in the unusual role of warm-up act rather than main attraction – “If you’re not ready at the end of this 45 minutes, we have failed!” – but her look of delight as the crowd bellowed the first chorus of “Still Into You” showed Paramore are much more than that.

A high-octane set of bangers followed, including “Aint’ It Fun”, “This Is Why” and “Misery Business” (the latter reintroduced to the set at Swift’s request), taking anyone unfamiliar with the band on the same journey as Williams’ T-shirt, which read: “Try It – You’ll Like It.”

The “Eras” may now be so big that it practically has its own time zone, its own Gross Domestic Product and its own unique gravitational pull. But, when you’re actually there, every moment from the opening “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” to the climactic “Karma” remains gloriously spontaneous and, yes, unique. Rest assured, you have never seen anything like this before, even if you think you have.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.