Twainiacs rejoice: Shania is back, owning her femininity and rockin’ the hell out of an NHL rink

Toronto Star
By Ben Rayner
July 7, 2018

Shania Twain with Bastian Baker

Scotiabank Arena, Friday, July 6

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

Shania shot a movie once, in my hometown …

Not sure what the ultimate purpose of bringing all those cameras to Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena for the first of Timmins-raised (sorta-)country superstar Shania Twain’s two consecutive Now tour dates in the venue formerly known as the Air Canada Centre on Friday night will be, but the results should look pretty smooth however and whenever her people choose to monetize them.

Twain warned going into last night’s ridiculously high-tech stage show that she might have to pause and recreate the illusion of the first time here and there if there were any flubs in her performance. In the end, though, the only noticeable hiccup in a two-hour show long on brightly lit moving parts and precisely timed technical and choreographical details was a slightly off-mark denouement of “That Don’t Impress Me Much” that presumably didn’t quite jibe with the director’s vision of how exactly Shania should run up a flight of steps onto one of the many glowing, hydraulic cubes whooshing here and there behind her all night long and collapse into the arms of a muscly male dancer to declare “That don’t impress me much” at just the right moment. I wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss if they’d let it slide and skipped the quick do-over that ensued, and the crowd — which roared approvingly at various levels of “deafening” for the duration of the two-hour show — would most definitely have forgiven the error.

So, yes, everything went well for the cameras on Friday night. They’ll probably edit out Twain’s unintentionally racy intro to Now’s jubilant summer jam “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed,” wherein she meant to say “I’m gonna be doing a lot of fist-pumping during this song” but forgot the “pump” and sent the sentence spinning off in a far more pornographic direction, but it got a hearty round of laughs from the more filthy-minded patrons in the room. And another when Shania — who, bless her heart, appeared completely oblivious to what she’d just said — responded to the audible intake of breath in the rink by repeating herself. Good times.

Twain’s lack of polish in the between-song banter was actually one of the evening’s more endearing elements. There was little room for error in the actual staging, as she and her innumerable dancers and intermittently visible backing musicians frequently risked losing limbs or falling to the their deaths from great heights if they missed a single step, so the fact that her chatter to the crowd remains unrehearsed and slightly clumsy even after a two-year stint in Vegas a few years back kept her human amidst a precision spectacle that could otherwise have been completely robotic.

It was still a bit robotic, mind you. New tunes like the opener “Life’s About to Get Good” — sung with the aid of six backup singers after Lady Twain made her entrance in sparkly gown and sparkly cowboy hat from the 100s and toured the arena on her way to the stage while drummer Elijah Wood (not that one) pounded on a couple of tom toms at the back of the bowl — and “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” and “Party for Two” (performed with help from opener Bastian Baker) are so heavily electronic and reliant on backing tracks that they’ve more or less severed Twain’s already tenuous connections to country music, and they’re not as easy a fit for her charms as old-school “everygal” anthems like “Any Man of Mine,” “Don’t Be Stupid,” “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” and “(If You’re Not In It for Love) I’m Outta Here!” (Although, that said, it was kinda cool to hear Shania copping some sonic flourishes from gloomy Brit electro-popsters the xx on new number “Poor Me.”

Those rousing monster hits, as well as the goopy ballads “You’re Still the One” — during which Twain strummed a guitar that may or may not have been plugged in while suspended from a harness over the arena floor — and “From This Moment On,” were what the crowd came to hear, of course, and resulted in unendingly boisterous singalongs from the many, many, many ladies in the house. Probably not least because there was a moment a few years ago when Twain, stricken with heartbreak after a messy split with her husband, producer and co-writer Robert John “Mutt” Lange and faced with the very real possibility that she might never sing again due to complications from Lyme disease, looked like she might be gone for good from the touring trail. The Shania faithful are clearly very grateful to have their girl back and touring her first album of new material in 15 years. Her Rock This Country tour in 2015 was supposed to be her “farewell,” let’s not forget.

And you know what? It is somewhat comforting to have Shania Twain back. Her music’s never really been my cup of tea, but she’s got some indisputably perfect pop tunes in her canon and, moreover, they’re not really meant to be my cup of tea. I’m a 40-ish male; Shania’s tunes are not aimed at me, but at the thousands of women gettin’ down with their gal pals in the cheap seats and anxiously awaiting that moment in the encore when she finally uncorks “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

“This is all about what a woman wants.”

So went Twain’s mid-set introduction to “Honey, I’m Home” — a switch-flippin’ single from 1997’s ultra-mega-super-hit album Come On Over wherein the Timmins-raised (sorta-)country superstar demands a foot rub, a cold one, a hot meal and some peace and quiet in front of the TV after comin’ home at the end of a hard day — on Friday night. The room veritably exploded and “ping” went whatever needed to go “ping” in this male music writer and longtime Shania doubter’s head to finally get Shania Twain.

Of course it exploded. Here was a 52-year-old mom totally owning her femininity and rockin’ the hell out of an NHL rink. What a nice change of pace it must be for the tens of thousands of women taking in the Now tour not to sit through another arena show where all they hear are songs about what men want and how it feels to be a man. We could all do with more of that. So, Ms. Twain, long may you run.