REVIEW: Yes, Twain's talent is diminished, but at PPL Center she still impresses much

The Morning Call
By John J. Moser
October 2, 2015

The reasons to see Shania Twain in concert are multitude: She’s the second-best-selling female country artist ever, has the best-selling country album ever, and is the only female to have three consecutive discs sell 10 million copies. Seven of her songs hit No. 1 on the country chart.

But when Twain came to Allentown’s PPL Center on Friday, there were some equally compelling reasons.

Twain hasn’t released an album in 13 years and not toured in 11 years. She had vocal cord lesions that left her unable to sing and barely able to speak. So there were legitimate concerns about what Twain would sound like.

Additionally, Twain has said this is her final tour a farewell to the road as she concentrates on writing and recording and perhaps performing residencies, such as her recent two-year stint in Las Vegas.

From the opening song of her 19-song, 95-minute show Friday — the appropriate tour title “Rock This Country!” — Twain proved she can still sing, though in a slightly lower register and more constrained range. On most songs, she belted in the brassy voice of her hit “That Don’t Impress Me Much.”

Her five-man band faithfully re-created the 1990-vibe country rock music that made Twain such a crossover phenomenon.

And it was easily the biggest-production concert PPL has seen. Dressed in a sequined black body suit with The Rolling Stones’ “tongue” logo on it, thigh-high high-heeled booth and a fringed jacket, Twain rose out of the stage a high tower and shot off fireworks, literally, on the first song, then three others.

Later in the show, she rode a long mechanical arm, with a saddle at one end, that swung over the crowd.

“Allentown, this party’s for you,” she sang on the opening song.

And yet, the show was strangely staid through the first four songs or so — until her 1995 first No. 1 hit, “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” and the fiddle-infused more pure country of “I Ain’t No Quitter.”

The show really began to kick in – and her voice gained significantly more power – on the gold hit “Love Gets Me Every Time.” That was the country-pop-rock that she did so well. And it got a big hand from the surprisingly full crowd.

Much the same for “Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You),” and the upbeat “Any Man of Mine” had her pulled through the crowd standing in a clear cart.

The set list covered her entire career — offering every one of her biggest hits, offering every one of her seven No. 1 hits an six of her seven gold or platinum songs. It spanned her career, from her 1995 gold breakthrough it “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” through her last charting single, 2011’s “Today Is Your Day.”

The only omission — admittedly big — was her 2003 gold hit “Forever and for Always,” and it seemed obvious the reason it was skipped is because Twain can no longer hit its high falsetto.

The one song on which she reached for higher notes was “Up!” the title track from her 2003 album.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on tour – over a decade, that’s a long time,” she said in introducing the song. “And all I can say is there’s nowhere but up from here.” But in hitting some of her highest notes of the night, she reminding how much better her voice actually was.

She played an acoustic set of “Today is Your Day” and a nicely warm “No One Needs to Know” that focused on her voice and showed she, indeed, can still sing. And she still sounded good — though lushly backgrounded, on her biggest hit, ”You’re Still The One.”

She also sang “Party For Two” as a duet with opening act Gavin DeGraw, and it was a surprisingly good duet on the rock side of country.

And yet much of the show had Twain, who turned 50 in August, was in more overtly sexy outfits, her hair dyed blond and even, early on, wearing rose-colored aviator glasses, as if she needed to add more to her show than just her voice. She left stage twice for a total of seven minutes to change costumes.

It made her sometimes seem more of a cougar than the more understated wholesome persona she had a decade ago. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

She wound down her show in a black sequined dress with her delicate big hit, “From This Moment On,” though again lushly supported, with flowing fog, lasers and sparkling lights. Then, stripping to a revealing mini dress with high red books, “That Don’t Impress Me Much” on which her vocals faltered, but were saved by the fact that it was such a fun song.

He voice also was weaker on the main-set-closing “(If You’re Not in it for Love) I’m Outta Here.”

She returned, in her most revealing black body suit, for an encore of another big hit, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” on which her voice again was sometimes drastically restrained, but again was good because the song was so fun, and because Twain seemed to let loose, no matter her limitations.

So to answer the question — yes, Twain’s voice is not what it was when she last toured in 2004. But she more than compensated to make her show still worth seeing.

She still impresses much.

As the opener, DeGraw gave his best performance of the half dozen or so area shows he has played since debuting at Allentown Fair in 2003.

In a 10-song, 40-minute set, DeGraw abandoned the self-aware approach he showed at Sands Bethlehem Event Center and elsewhere and became a populist rocker that captured the crowd.

He opened with one of his best songs, “Soldier,” and four songs in did the full first verse of Bill Joel’s “Allentown” that actually was very good. He followed with a delightfully Dylanesque reading of his “Best I Ever Had,” then a version of Joel’s “Big Shot” that was as good as the original.

He closed with his breakthrough hit “I Don’t Want To Be” in which he went out into the arena’s riser seats, and concluded by pairing Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” with his “Not Over You.”

It was almost Sprinsteenesque. Where had DeGraw been keeping this part of himself?