To the 25,000 fans jammed into the Nissan Pavilion, Shania Twain could do no wrong, from the opening stomp of "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" to the closing knell of "Rock This Country!"
If only Twain--the most popular female performer in country music--had done a few more things right during her sold-out concert Friday night. She could have offered more emotional dynamics in a performance in which her oversize, overamped band often overpowered her. She could have spent a little less time interacting with fans onstage (so many pictures were snapped and signed that you'd have thought the tour was sponsored by Polaroid). And she could have taken more creative risks, particularly with quieter ballads.
Even when Twain served up the lovely devotional ballad "You're Still the One," the twin mandolins and acoustic guitars were augmented by a pair of electric guitars. A similar sonic overload diminished the inspirational "From This Moment On."
Subtlety was a rare commodity Friday night--hardly surprising given the generally rambunctious country-pop of Twain's last two albums, "Come On Over" (1997) and "The Woman in Me" (1995). Each has sold more than 10 million copies--Twain is the first female in any musical genre to do that--and they've produced 20 videos, an unheard-of ratio that explains why the undeniably photogenic Twain has become the first great video star in country music.
In concert, however, Twain eschews the costumes and glitzy glamour of the videos. She wore only two basic (albeit skintight) outfits over the course of a two-hour show (fewer changes than Aerosmith's Steve Tyler or Elton John!) while performing mostly up-tempo, big-beat-driven material with hyperkinetic aerobic energy. At times, Twain came across like the Denise Austin of popular music, particularly when she'd exhort the crowd to "Get off your butts!"
Though she's classified as a country artist, little of Twain's repertoire fits that category beyond her breakthrough single, "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?," the Everly Brothers-shaded "No One Needs to Know" and the sassy "That Don't Impress Me Much," a genial put-down of peacock-proud males. On the other hand, songs like "Honey, I'm Home" and "Any Man of Mine" sound like heavy-metal bluegrass with Cajun flavoring, thanks to the three-fiddle attack that pumped up almost every song and doubled to six-fiddle fever on the raucous "Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)."
Much of the show was devoted to the hook-heavy power pop championed by Twain and her producer/co-writer/husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lange. Songs like the soaring "I'm Holdin' On to Love (To Save My Life)" and "Love Gets Me Every Time" build off twangy guitar lines, while "Honey, I'm Home" and "Any Man of Mine" have shout-along choruses that evoke Queen, Gary Glitter and Joan Jett. Sometimes the already full band got a little local help: the six-voice "choir" from Woodrow Wilson High School on the well-intentioned but overly dramatic "God Bless the Child" and the three-drum Wilson "band" on the martial "(If You're Not in It for Love) I'm Outta Here." The little girl who stepped out of the orchestra pit to join Twain on "I'm Holdin' On to Love" sounded much more natural in her impromptu appearance.
That's the thing about Shania Twain: She has a personality that invites you in. And though there was some question as to whether Twain could cut it as a live act--she'd sold 15 million albums before starting her first tour last May--she's proven to be as tireless as she is charismatic.
As they have for the past year, the Canadian family band Leahy opened the concert for Twain with a high-energy, fiddle-driven Celtic/country sound that felt like a more personalized "Riverdance," thanks to furiously paced step dancing and flurries of electric jigs and reels. There were also hints of Appalachian hoedowns and Gypsy campfires, but the best of Leahy reflected the nine family members' Irish roots.
CAPTION: Shania Twain's strong voice was no match for her big, overamplified band Friday at the Nissan Pavilion.
CAPTION: The hook-heavy power pop made famous in Shania Twain's videos dominated her Nissan Pavilion show, though in person the country star eschews glitzy costumes.