Music review: Shania Twain 'grateful' to be back and Ottawa glad to have her

Ottawa Citizen
By Lynn Saxberg
June 28, 2015

Shania Twain christened Ottawa’s newest festival site at Wesley Clover Parks on Saturday with a concert extravaganza that pulled in a youthful party crowd of 24,000 people.

It was the biggest single night, and the only outdoor show, of the country-pop superstar’s first tour in more than a decade. Whether her Rock This Country excursion is a comeback or a farewell seems to be up in the air, but to the fans caught up in the moment, it made no difference.

In thigh-high boots, a red-sequined mini dress and black-fringed jacket, the first of several glamorous costumes, the 49-year-old singer made an eye-popping entrance, strutting her way through the anthemic Rock This Country and the sassy Honey I’m Home before slowing things down a tad for You Win My Love. A terrific band, including three fiddle players, backed her, while the huge stage pulsed with lasers and blasts of pyro.

In the crowd, it was a massive girls’ night out. Of course, there were men in attendance, too, but the vast majority of the audience consisted of smiling cowgirls singing along to every word, unified by the power of sisterhood (and probably a few beverages).  Their favourites were the feisty ones: Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?, Don’t Be Stupid, Any Man of Mine, That Don’t Impress Me Much and especially, Man! I Feel Like a Woman.

After the string of big bro-country shows that have passed through town in the last year or so, it was not only refreshing to hear a female perspective but also surprising to see the music connect with the same young demographic. After all, Twain hasn’t released a new album since 2002’s Up!

Despite some technical issues with the mic that made her voice sound choppy, Twain performed with the confidence of a seasoned diva, a stage persona honed over the last two years of her Vegas residency. Between songs, though, the Timmins tomboy revealed a vulnerable side, relieved that fans remembered her.

“It’s been 11 years since I’ve been on tour,” Twain said. “I’m just so grateful that all of you are still here. I wasn’t sure I would ever sing again. I really thought that was it. Over. Done. It’s just amazing how life goes sometimes. I’m very happy to be back. There’s no way but up from here.”

Twain also expressed her happiness at being back in Canada, and sent out a greeting to her aunt and cousins from Timmins who were in the audience. At one point, she brought opener Wes Mack, a Calgary lad, on stage for a fun duet on Party for Two.

Twain’s concert was the first show to be mounted at the recently redeveloped Nepean equestrian centre, now known as Wesley Clover Parks. Although the grassy field has plenty of space, there were some crowd flow issues and long lineups for food, beverages and washroom facilities.

And in one of the most unexpected concert pairings of the year, warmup duties fell to the Doobie Brothers, the California boogie rockers from the 1970s. New country artists Wes Mack and Dan & Shay were also on the bill.

The current configuration of the Doobies features just two original brothers, singer-guitarists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston, but they came with an extended lineup of veteran musicians, including two drummers, who were able to recreate the sound with just the right balance of polish and groove.

“We are the Doobie Brothers, in case you aren’t sure,” joked Simmons as he surveyed the vast young crowd.  Judging by their inattention, it was a valid comment. Jesus Is Just Alright, Rockin’ Down The Highway and South City Midnight Lady barely warranted a reaction from anyone over 25, which was too bad because the songs sounded fantastic. Takin’ It To The Streets, Black Water, China Grove and Listen to the Music fared better, earning a round of appreciation from the baby-boomer minority.