Low-key celebration of Shania Twain's unexpected return from self-exile

Concert Review: Shania Twain at the Bell Centre; June 28, 2015

Montreal Gazette
By Erik Leijon
June 29, 2015

On Sunday night at the Bell Centre in front of an audience of 15,581, Shania Twain found herself back in the saddle again – both literally and figuratively.

At one point during the near two hour-long set – her first in Montreal since 2004 – the Canadian country pop superstar was lifted on a stationary mechanical bull attached to a moving crane as she performed the cheery title track to 2002’s Up!.

More importantly, though, the 49-year-old’s Rock This Country tour marks a return to touring after an extended hiatus. Outside of a Las Vegas residency, her last spate of shows occurred over 2003 and 2004. In the years following Up!, Twain lived largely outside of the public eye, until the dissolution of her marriage to husband and longtime collaborator Robert “Mutt” Lange.

She tiptoed around the subject of her dark post-divorce days once during the show, before an acoustic rendition of her 2011 comeback single Today Is Your Day, a song she told the audience was for when she was having a bad day and required a kick in the butt. “Before I start to cry I’m going to cheer things up,” a choked up Twain said afterwards, before moving on to the more upbeat No One Needs to Know from her 1995 breakthrough record The Woman in Me.

With no new material to promote, Twain’s 21-song setlist focused on the records that made her the best-selling female artist in country music history. She saved her biggest hits, That Don’t Impress Me Much, (If You’re Not in It for Love) I’m Outta Here! and Man! I Feel Like a Woman! for a strong denouement that left concertgoers humming towards the exits. Twain didn’t deviate from the recorded versions, but given the time elapsed since her last show here and the vocal cord problems that nearly robbed her of her singing voice, an easygoing hits-only set from the Canadian singer was what the audience was looking for. Not known for bombast, Twain’s steady performance did nothing to suggest she had been beset with vocal ailments in recent years.

Twain addressed the crowd in English and French, saying she wanted everyone in the audience to understand, yet her in-between song banter was not overly revealing.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been up on stage,” she said after Party of Two, a duet she performed with the night’s opener, Wes Mack, but she didn’t elaborate much beyond that. Instead, the night felt like a low-key celebration of an artist’s unexpected return from self-exile.

Her backing band wielded muscular guitars, hands-free mics for en masse harmonizing and produced two fiddle players when required. A lap steel was used sparingly, so the amount of twang heard during the set was limited.

Hot flames emanated from beneath the stage, as did other pyrotechnics. If a song’s raw emotional power inversely correlates to the amount of pyrotechnics allotted during its performance, Twain’s no-frills version of You’re Still the One while sitting with an acoustic guitar proves it remains her most direct, resonant love song and the ideal showcase for her understated vocals. Power ballad From This Moment On, on the other hand, was delivered with all the fireworks and artificial mist they could muster.

On her Up! tour, Twain started her sets with Man! I Feel Like a Woman! and ended with Rock This Country! This time, their positions were switched. Twain wasn’t ready to make wholesale changes for this long-awaited comeback tour, but Sunday night’s performance felt like a positive start to a new chapter in Twain’s decorated career.