Concert review: Shania Twain flashy fun, but a musical featherweight
By John Serba
July 12, 2015
REVIEW: 2 ½ OUT OF 4 STARS
What: Shania Twain with opening act Gavin DeGraw
When and where: July 11, 2015, Van Andel Arena Highlight: (Song name or describe a moment)
Length: 100 minutes for Twain, 40 for DeGraw
Attendance: Sold out (number not available)
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" blared out of the Van Andel Arena speakers as the lights went down. The audience roared. From below the stage rose Shania Twain, clutching a metallic-red microphone to match her lipstick and sparkling minidress, accessorizing with rose-colored glasses and leather fringe from here to February.
As the erector-set platform lifted her above the heads of her backing band, they launched "Rock This Country!" – Twain's exclamation point, not mine – re-establishing the Canadian singer as new-country royalty after a decade-long absence from the touring circuit. It's a statement we've heard before from Twain, who crossed over long and hard and fast during the 1990s and early 2000s, and now returns to remind us of the pre-hick-hop era, a kinder, gentler, less embarrassing time.
She has nothing new to say; the current slew of dates, which she's calling her last, is a greatest-hits tour, a nostalgic run-through of her signature tunes before she says goodbye to the stage. The opening number, however, also set the baseline for a show that delivered plenty of visual flair, but lacked musical oomph. Her voice was thin, the sound mix lacked dynamic and her seven-piece backup band was a faceless unit, notable only for one of the three guitarists playing a flying-V lap-steel, a reminder of how they can, you know, rock the ol' country.
The evening's fourth song was one of Twain's signature hot-sass tracks, "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" (see also: "Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)" and "That Don't Impress Me Much"). It's the perfect type of number to bat clean-up, a sizzler with a big hook, but like many of her performances of big hits Saturday night, it lacked sonic punch. The choruses blended into the arrangements when they should pop like fireworks.
Truth is, the specter of her former husband and producer, Mutt Lange – the man who pushed AC/DC to stadiums, turned Def Leppard into hit-producing robots and rendered Twain a multi-genre superstar - hangs over the songs like a big, bland fog of homogeneity. Lange's first co-writing credit with Twain was "Boots," ironic considering his footwear reportedly ended up under another woman's bed. But, evidenced by the rose-colored glasses, Twain has moved on, and so should we.
The crowd, eager to love Twain, didn't seem to mind, and sang along loudly and contentedly. She reciprocated the love verbally, and by singing "Any Man of Mine" from a rolling platform pulled around the periphery of the venue by roadies, slapping hands and leaning into the crowd for fan photos. Earlier, a gentleman in the front row gave the singer a massive bouquet of flowers; she nearly mooned half the sold-out arena when she crouched to give him the microphone, into which he revealed that he's 93 years old.
Twain also handed the reins to the audience for her acoustic performance of "You're Still the One," letting fans carry the chorus. Her voice sounded best with less accompaniment - her three-song acoustic mini-set also featured "Today is Your Day," an emotional affirmation that works best presented without the pyro, flashpots, digital-video presentation and other gimmicks punctuating the likes of "(If You're Not in it for Love) I'm Outta Here!" and "Honey, I'm Home"; for "Up!" she rode a mechanical bull, albeit the non-bucking variety, primarily because it was on the end of a rotating extension crane that lifted her above the crowd.
She also brought out opening act Gavin DeGraw to duet with her on "Party for Two," which she originally recorded with Mark McGrath or Billy Currington, depending on what radio-format you listened to in the '90s. DeGraw's 40-minute set featured tight, skillfully executed vanilla pop made an even lighter shade of pale by a cover of Billy Joel's "Big Shot," and by sandwiching "Not Over You" within references to Bryan Adams' "Heaven." DeGraw is best known for the hit "I Don't Want to Be," which features an irrepressible descending melody during its chorus, and the song proved to be just as infectious live.
Unsurprisingly, Twain upheld her status as a pop star with plenty of style but not a lot of musical meat on the bones. After a mid-set costume change, she rose out of the stage and yelled "Let's go!" as the band mushed into "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!", another mildly underwhelming performance boosted by the singer's strut and a high-wattage light show. Truth is, no one was gonna get got unless they wanted to. That's not a bad thing, considering Twain's cheery accessibility and the swagger she brought to show-closing encore number "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!", during which she wore an armored, high-and-low-cut leotard rendering her a country-rock dominatrix. It's hard not to expect a little more such attitude from Twain and volume from her cohorts. It'd be much more rock 'n' roll that way.
Note: Shania Twain will play the Palace of Auburn Hills July 25, 2015