Shania Twain to fans at the Q: 'Honey, I'm Home' (concert review)

The Plain Dealer
By Chuck Yarborough
June 17, 2018

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Shania Twain is a case study in why an open mind might just be both the rarest and most valuable asset in music criticism.

Fifteen years ago, what I referred to as her "cotton candy'' brand of country music - tasty, but not necessarily filling - left a bad aftertaste following a show what was still known as the Gund Arena. Pitchy singing, suspect vocals that hinted at taped overdubs and gimmicks like sporting a William Green jersey to elicit woofs from Browns fans who were blissfully unaware of the coming years of futility made the night slightly worse than a visit to the dentist.

So when the Canadian singer-songwriter came to the now-designated Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night, expectations were not exactly in the stratosphere.

First off, it'd been 15 years of nothing from her. In those ensuing years, she suffered a bout of Lyme disease that left her with a case of dysphonia, an ailment that left her physically unable to sing.

Worse, her personal life sank even lower. She was divorced from producer Robert "Mutt" Lange, whom much of the music world credited with turning her into an artist who has sold 100 million records and won five Grammy Awards, after learning that he was having an affair with her best friend, Marie-Anne Thiebaud. Oh, and to complete the soap opera, Twain is now married to Thiebaud's ex-husband, who was the one who confirmed the affair to her in the first place.

Maybe there is some truth to the axiom, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.''

And therein lies my own true confession: I went to The Q Saturday night expecting to be underwhelmed.

I was wrong.

I wouldn't wish the personal sadness she's had to endure on anyone, but I think all of it - the health issues, the personal issues, the tabloid exposure - has made her better. I thought I was going to see a horrible show, and I saw exactly the opposite.

Maybe it's something as simple as dropping the key for the Twain chestnuts like "Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You),'' "Any Man of Mine,'' "Honey I'm Home'' and "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,'' but I don't think so.

There's a strength in her voice that wasn't there before. Oh, nobody's going to confuse her for opera singer Beverly Sills, and she still has to slide into the occasional note rather than hitting it straight on. Call it a "maturity'' in her vocals - and don't say it like it's a bad word, because it's not.

Making great use of a set that featured five cubes adorned with video screens, rolling stairs, a flying drum riser (manned to perfection by transgender drummer Elijah Wood) and six lithe and agile dancers who sometimes added background vocals, Twain was able to captivate the Gund, er, Quicken Loans Arena crowd for the best part of two hours.

Some of the show came from her comeback album, "Now,'' including a song born of her romantic travails called "Poor Me,'' and a wrenching homage to the military called "Soldier.'' Those two tunes really were the best of the new lot, but it was perhaps the opening song "Life's About to Get Good,'' that may be the one that proves prophetic.

But the ones the fans came to hear were those stalwarts, and for some reason, they seem to have a new energy. "You're Still the One,'' "Man! I Feel Like a Woman'' and "From This Moment On'' carry more oomph than ever. Yeah, it's still not Dylan (Thomas or Bob) when it comes to the writing. But it fits her and it fits the genre.

Back in the day, a critique of a Twain show most likely would say, "That Don't Impress Me Much.'' That assessment is no longer true.

Swiss singer-songwriter Bastian Baker opened with a personable six-song that allowed him to win over an impatient crowd with his tenor and sense of humor. Plus, his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah'' was outstanding.

When he was 17, Baker quit the Swiss national hockey team to pursue a career in music. Good call.