Shania Twain goes big and bigger at Verizon Center

The Washington Post
By Dave McKenna
July 22, 2015

Shania Twain reminded fans why she’s both country music history’s greatest selling female act and its least accessible superstar during Tuesday’s show at Verizon Center.

No doubt some of the emotional distance Twain has always had with her fans, particularly compared to most artists cranked out by the Nashville machine, can be attributed to geography: She was born and raised in Canada, and at the height of her fame moved to Switzerland to live in a medieval mansion with producer Mutt Lange. But it’s also the music. Lange had been known for cranking out hard rock chart toppers (Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is archetypal Lange) before trying to make it in Music City and hooking up professionally and matrimonially with the then-unknown Twain. Early in the 90-minute Verizon Center set, Twain performed “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?,” the 1995 single that was her first hit produced by Lange and the song that helped her walk through the country crossover door that had been opened wide several years earlier by Garth Brooks. Although always billed as a country act, Twain’s hits were put through several remixes targeted to appeal specifically to non-country audiences. She went on to sell more than 80 million records. Not since Phil and Ronnie Spector had pop music seen such a fortuitous Svengali/artist pairing.

But life in the castle wasn’t all fairy tales for Twain. She halted touring early into the new century when she lost her singing voice to polyps. Then she found Mutt putting his boots under the bed of her best friend. She divorced Lange and married Frédéric Thiébaud, the ex-husband of her ex-bestie, and her vocal problems largely disappeared. Yet Twain, who turns 50 next month, is still dancing with the guy who brought her to superstardom. For starters, she’s calling the current tour “Rock This Country,” and the arrangements she gave her old hits had a lot more to do with vintage Def Leppard than Hank Williams. Her wardrobe, full of fishnet stockings and thigh-high boots and lots of studded accessories, was similarly heavy metallic.

The show was big on bigness. Twain performed “I’m Gonna Get You Good” in front of a dangerous-looking assortment of flamethrowers blasting fire. For “Up,” Twain strapped herself to a mechanical bull and let a crane drag her to the arena’s rafters. During “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” Twain banged her head as one of her four guitarists delivered a shrieking solo.

The smallest moments of the show were its best and provided hints of Twain’s humanity. She sat on a stool to croon an acoustic version of “You’re Still the One,” which showed a kinship with the finest wimp rock from the 1970s. Twain introduced “Today Is Your Day” as something she wrote during a “particularly crappy time” in her life. As she strummed the you-can-do-it song on an acoustic guitar, many members of the overwhelmingly female audience that filled two-thirds of the big room held each other and swayed. While Twain was thanking the fans for coming out, a parent pushed her 6-year-old daughter toward the stage with an aggressive plea to let her sing. Twain tried calming the terrified kid down by handing over the microphone and letting her warble “Honey I’m Home” as the audience roared.

But there was little humane about the bombast that took complete control by night’s end. For her encore, Twain appeared in a spiked pleather onesie amid a blitz of lasers, fog, fireballs and strobe lights for an Earth-shaking run-through of “Feel Like a Woman.” Whatever she felt like, at that moment the most successful female country singer of all time looked like a backup singer for Motley Crue.