Review: Twain back in the saddle with glitter and glam
By Fish Griwkowsky
June 11, 2015
With: Wes Mack
When: Thursday night, second show Friday night
Where: Rexall Place
EDMONTON - Country music wasn’t just stuck in the mud, it was dead in the river.
Sure, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Randy Travis were making ripples, and George Strait held his torch high. But emerging from an era when Johnny Cash was playing K-Days, country needed a jolt.
Well, more specifically: explosions. Thus came Garth Brooks’ pyrotechnics — stealing tribal fire from Kiss and the working-class crown from Springsteen. And then, making stalwarts furious, floated in Shania Twain — the Ontarian who took country music global by U-turning it hard into ’80s pop, with this mutation still the biggest-selling female country singer ever, besides whatever percentage Taylor Swift counts. For a good decade and ever since, Twain and Brooks saved country music by burning it to the ground and building something flashy on the ashes.
So when Shania Twain’s flickering opening act Wes Mack bounced around at the NHL rink singing Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk a rainy Thursday night a few decades later, no one blinked an eye. And when the 49-year-old Queen of Pop Country rode a giant telescopic saddle over the crowd like a twinkling version of Gene Simmons, later spreading her arms wide in front of giant glowing cats, well, the woman had just spent two years playing Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, drawing links between her and Celine Dion forever.
Our two merciless concerns with any comeback act: sound and vision. Can she still hit the notes; how does she look?
Introduced by a canned I Love Rock N Roll, Twain followed the smoke out from behind a giant red curtain, bopping on top of a rising sparkle-girder to Rock This Country, fireworks exploding around her. Honey I’m Home, which probably should have been first, followed as she came down to earth, standing in a line with her leather-glitter seven-piece band, including two fiddlers, all short as her players always are. Twain herself was in French Riviera shades, mega high heels, thigh-high black tights, a sequined dress and a black tassled jacket. And, for the first time in her long career, Debbie Harry blond — if not more fun than previous shows (I’ve seen her play at least three times since ’98, including the infamous Grey Cup not-even-karaoke).
“We are finally together after all these years,” she said a few numbers in. “Just to be back in Canada feels great. The air is just better here.”
The first genuine moment of the show, she pulled up a couple of fans from Whitecourt (one named Shania) for Don’t Be Stupid, then was dragged around the floor in a rolling penalty box for the excellent Any Man of Mine, vanishing into the stage bowels as her band played some hokey James Bond laser jazz.
Costume change and tongues of shooting fire for Act II’s Def Leppard-dumb I’m Gonna Getcha Good!, all the flash mismatching the flat song, the faux Cajun Come on Over similarly bloodless.
Coming back to life, for Up! she rode the inarguably phallic extendo-saddle over our heads, then went acoustic for Today Is Your Day. Her most country and thus best song, No One Needs to Know, proved alluring and molten as ever, especially during its beautiful bridge. You’re Still the One got all the telephone flashlights rocking slowly, also lovely and real.
Back to the Planet Dion for From This Moment, a giant diamond commercial that would dehydrate Hank Williams into a crumbling lizard fleeing the smoke and fireworks in horror. Then came the giant laser cheetahs, inexplicable as a backdrop to That Don’t Impress Me Much except that they looked caged and bored. Look for them on Instagram.
If You’re Not In It For Love (I’m Outta Here) brought on the long, dark cheer, then the fist-pumping Man! I Feel Like a Woman.
In this free country, the screaming crowd will disagree — but it really was an uneven, often disconnected show, lost in its own glam, decadence and safe-as-stuffed-kittens microseconds of metal and exploding glitter.
Like that cold afternoon in 2002 at the Grey Cup, it was obvious what was real, what truly wasn’t.