For erstwhile "new country" outsider Shania Twain, the commercial impact of her first live video doubtless carries the sweet smell of revenge. Twain's mid-'90s breakthrough, fueled by formidable production polish and carefully groomed videos, conspicuously delayed live shows until long after the expatriate Canadian's success crossed into platinum territory--an omission that prompted some skeptics to theorize that the would-be megastar's talent was accomplished through studio legerdemain. Shania Twain Live may benefit from plenty of polish and more than a little calculation in its staging, but the singer-songwriter's long apprenticeship in lounge bands and resort revues north of the border is apparent. Whether one loves or loathes her songs, Twain herself comes across as a seasoned performer who knows how to work the audience.
Equally apparent, and equally unlikely to resolve the division between fans and foes, is Twain's crossover agenda. Scaled for the arenas that Twain and her handlers targeted early on, the concert is closer in pace and power-chords to a mainstream rock show than most country acts, an orientation that aligns the star with Garth Brooks's swaggering attack rather than most country songstresses. Her band may boast three fiddlers, but their slashing attack emulates the kilowatt buzz of the rock guitarists that share the scrim, who pull off familiar string-bending flourishes. As for the front woman, in her electric-green leopard-print top, hip-hugging pants, and meticulously permed, waist-length hair, she resembles some improbably aerobicized white Rastafarian.
The set list is a generous one, reproducing most of Twain's back-to-back platinum albums, and illustrates her skill at mixing melting ballads, flirtatious rockers that enable her to strut her physical beauty, and songs testifying to her self-reliance. Still, for all Twain's assertions that she won't suffer fools gladly, the songs ultimately reveal a traditional romanticism with a moderate, post-feminist spark. One need only check out the power equation behind such songs as "Honey, I'm Home" and "Any Man of Mine" to recognize Twain's themes are ultimately much older than their crossover wrappers. --Sam Sutherland
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