Review: Shania has to learn to leave Las Vegas
Concert sold out at Saddledome
By Mike Bell
July 10, 2014
Isn’t it supposed to stay in Vegas?
Isn’t what happens there supposed to remain there, supposed to not be spoken of and not carried across state lines and back into the real world?
Especially when the person who does that thing, does that Vegas deed, all but promises it will remain there, that Vegas and all of its trappings and superficiality and overly showy showmanship will be dropped to get back to their roots.
That, ultimately, is the failing of Canadian country superstar Shania Twain’s first foray back into the world of concert-giving after a decade absence and a two-year residency down in Sin City.
She left there, but she didn’t leave it there. She brought it with her. Or it’s merely become inseparable from her.
Whatever the case, despite intimating an evening very much different from her Still the One show in Caesars Palace, despite promising something that was more of a rock show, the first of her two-night Stampede Saddledome stand had all of the feeling — or, to be honest, second-hand understanding and impression of — and even much the same set list as that Nevada program which she wraps up later this summer.
It didn’t feel like a concert, it felt, looked and sounded like something that was put together for the Cirque crowd on the Strip, with silly dance routines, gaudy theatricality, numerous costume changes, big lights, bright backdrops, fog machines and well-rehearsed lead-ins that were mere glitzy add-ons to a couple of decades of recognizable hits.
Even her entrance was a little too much pandering showmanship and a lot less actual connection, with Twain, in RCMP costume, entering floor-level with other (presumably) actual mounted police, taking the stage and waving in the iconic red uniform, before the lights went down, and she was stripped to a glittery one-piece.
Musically, the chart-toppers were plentiful — I’m Gonna Getcha Good, You Win My Love, a remarkably earthbound Up!, (If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here, From This Moment On, Man! I Feel Like A Woman! — but they were performed mechanically by both the large band and Twain.
It was as if they were holding a little something back — perhaps it was the matinee before the evening show — and each tune a musical number, rather than an actual song, in a surprisingly ploddingly paced performance.
It took a good half-hour before the first genuine moment of her set, which was when she brought a handful of fans onstage and chatted with them — perhaps, as an audience member’s quibble, for a little too long in a 100-minute concert — before engaging in a campfire singalong on Come On Over. But even then, when the fireplace and faux forest backdrop appeared, that natural element and idea was all but lost.
On a vocal level, which actually seems rather redundant in the context of the show, Twain for the most part sounded strong and in pretty fine form, showing none of the ill effects of her vocal cord issues.
Today is Your Day was particularly nice, with cracks in the performer facade letting in some actual character and emotion.
If only there was more of that. If only — to compare Twain’s appearance with fellow new country legend, fellow Vegas denizen, and fellow recent Stampede visitor Garth Brooks — there was more concert, more song, more singing, more Shania and less show perhaps it would have been a more successful evening if not a magical one.
In other words, if you’re going to leave Las Vegas, leave it all behind. It may work down there, but it doesn’t play as well when you bring into back into the real world.
On the flip side, Alberta trio High Valley were a surprisingly effective opener. Not surprisingly because they don’t have any talent or any kind of history that would back up their inclusion on the bill, as Juno and CCMA nominations populate their resume. Surprisingly because it was an intimate, broaching lovely soft-seater performance in an arena setting. Correction: In a Stampede arena setting.
By any and all expectations, it shouldn’t have worked, let alone as wonderfully as it did.
They were charming, easygoing, likable and refreshing, and their music was as soothing to the ears as the air conditioning in the ’Dome was to the ample and exposed beet-red flesh that filled it.
They fought the indifference and conversations of those early-comers who were there for the Shania treatment or Stampede experience, and they won.
They did so with their contemporary and classic faith-based country songs — from unassuming new country numbers LET It Be Me and Dirt Road Side to a wonderful bluegrass tune later in the set — and they did so with a natural and un-awed onstage presence.
Heck, this was an act that closed with a quiet, earnest, acoustic number titled On the Combine, that was exactly what it said it was, a meditation and celebration of farm life, which they also managed to effortlessly, and non-cheezily, work in elements of the Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling.
They even managed to fit into their 30-minute set some audience interaction, bringing up a young woman and serenading her — as a nod to their upbringing in the northern Alberta Mennonite community of La Crete — with a German version of the Backstreet Boys I Want It That Way.
Again, it shouldn’t have worked. But it did. Splendidly.
If you’re headed to Twain’s second Saddledome revue on Thursday night, do yourself a favour: Arrive early, beat the heat, and take in the cooling warmth of High Valley’s opening set.