Shania Twain defends her crown as queen of country pop

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By Marie Fazio
July 18, 2018

As the crowd at PPG Paints Arena buzzed with excitement before the show began last night, loud beats of a drum reverberated from a small stage in the middle of the arena floor.

It came from drummer Elijah Wood, who, with body flailing and blonde hair flying, alerted the packed arena that the queen of country pop had arrived. All heads turned as Shania Twain descended the stairs in the back of the arena, clad in a glittering gown, stilettos, a beaming smile and naturally, a cowboy hat. She took her time greeting and hugging fans as she made her way through the sea of fans to the front stage.

The last time Shania Twain graced the stage in Pittsburgh was in 2015, on her “Rock This Country” tour, which she announced at the time as her farewell tour. Three years and a new album later — “Now” was released in September — it’s obvious that the farewell didn’t stick, fortunately for Shania Twain fans everywhere. In the last 10 years, Twain has been through a lot to say the least — a cheating husband, a divorce, a lost voice — but the raw, energetic performance she gave last night proved that the queen isn’t about to relinquish her reign.

The show was an emotional one. Several times, Twain, 52, spoke of her fans as her source of inspiration and seemed to be almost choked up.

“Life has a lot of ups and downs,” she said, climbing stairs to a cube on stage which lifted her high into the air to perform “Up!” “Right now I just want to stay positive in saying that there’s nowhere but up from here.”

Twain’s songs, particularly “Poor Me,” gave the audience an insight into her pain, but her resilience and ability to create vocal magic out of a worst nightmare rang clear through it all.

Her pity party didn’t last long as the recognizable fiddle from “Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)” cut through the air amid cheers. Her versatility as a singer and dancer was on full display. Throughout the show she effortlessly went from country line-dancing to hip swaying and shimmying to dramatic rock ’n’ roll, complete with multiple outfit changes, including her signature top hat and heeled boots.

Armed with a cowboy hat for heavier country numbers such as “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,” she proved herself in flashier performances while flanked by six backup dancers as well as intimate solos. It was in those vulnerable, emotional songs, such as “From This Moment On,” that she seemed to make the deepest audience connection, as the crowd swayed and sang along. And, of course, there was lots of sparkle and glam through it all.

She performed several songs from her new album, which debuted No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Chart in 2017, including the fun, summery “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed.” She excitedly called attention to the fans who sang along to every word of the new songs.

For “More Fun,” from her new album, her male dancers performed what she called a “Magic Mike but better” number. Her dance crew followed precise choreography at times and at others seemed to freestyle alongside her.

The mood of the show was guided by both Twain’s energetic crew and the large, moving cubes on stage, with screens at all sides. The cubes lifted her and backup dancers high into the air, creating a multidimensional effect. Behind her, the screens changed, displaying a pop-art eye-catching display, then cheetah print, then transforming into giant speakers. Gray tones on the cubes matched the somber, emotional mood of “Poor Me,” while fiery red accompanied “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.”

After a brief stint at the small stage in the middle of the arena floor, she enlisted the help of three extremely excited female fans in their early 20s before before sending them off with a hug and a selfie.

Older hits had the audience, which was mostly female — but not by much –- singing along, dancing and embodying the fun, free, empowered message that Twain proclaims in her songs. During her performance of “Party For Two” she was joined by opener Bastian Baker.

As she ended with energetic renditions of two of her most popular songs, “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” and “Rock this Country,” Twain showed the crowd that though she might have experienced a lot of life changes since she last released new music, nothing really has changed. She still has an incredible voice, is here for a good time and loves her fans.

In one of the most memorable moments from her set, Twain floated in a guitar case across the crowd while crooning “Soldier.” Before launching into “You’re Still the One” — which was released 20 years ago — she addressed the crowd:

“This is our reunion song,” she said. “Pittsburgh, you’re still the one.”

During his own set, Baker, a Switzerland native, held his own on stage. His aesthetic — he wore a black T-shirt and sang accompanied by only his guitar — was simple, yet commanding. This was Baker’s first time in Pittsburgh, though he previously opened for Twain on the final two stops of her Rock This Country Tour in 2011. As a 13-year former hockey player, he told the crowd that it was “pretty awesome” to play where Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin “make the magic happen.” At this, the crowd went wild. Introducing each of his songs with playful banter, Baker ran the crowd through a few of his numbers including “Love on Fire,” “Follow the Wind” and “Leaving Tomorrow,” as well as an admirable cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”