Shania Twain's TV Pop
by Seth Rogovoy
(ALBANY, N.Y.) – In the best tradition of latter-day TV talk-show hosts, Shania Twain did just about everything she could to connect with her audience at the Knickerbocker Arena on Saturday night short of inviting them all out for drinks after the show back at the hotel bar.
At the outset of the concert, she emerged onstage from the midst of the sold-out crowd looking like just another local girl – albeit one with fashion-model good looks -- wearing a bright red Albany River Rats jersey. During the show, which was performed in the round in the center of the arena, she made repeated forays into the crowd, pressing the flesh, signing autographs, accepting gifts, hugging and kissing fans, and even singing an entire song from the cheap seats (which at $40 weren’t so cheap).
At various points, she invited fans to join her on stage, including a cute pair of barely verbal, pre-school age sisters, a dozen local drummers, and a rabid male fan who said he’d seen Twain 20 times in concert already and had tickets to three more shows in the next week.
And of course, Twain delivered a solid two-hours of the non-stop hits that have made her the biggest-selling female solo artist of all time.
That Twain was able to accomplish this with utterly generic material and a personality totally lacking distinction was both incredibly disappointing and a testament to the TV-oriented culture that flattens everything out into the least common denominator.
Twain wasn’t bad, by any means. She roamed around the oval stage in the center of the arena with a sunny smile and an upbeat, girl-next-door disposition. She was enthusiastic, cheering on the crowd as much as it cheered her on, but never allowing herself to become too passionate about anything, especially her music. She kept everything under control, including her more than serviceable vocals and her carefully choreographed – but not too choreographed – stage show. She never quite danced, but she always rocked to the beat, and the beats themselves never challenged, never swung, but always reliably reassured.
No, Twain wasn’t bad, but her songs were. A hodgepodge of pop, country, rock and schmaltz, Twain’s material was already derivative before she and her producer/husband/co-writer Robert John “Mutt” Lange quilted together these third-generation rewrites of old hits by Huey Lewis (“Up!”), Queen (“Honey I’m Home”), and Abba (“C’est La Vie,” a bald ripoff of “Dancing Queen” – don’t they have copyright lawyers in Sweden?).
What passed for social commentary in her show was “She’s Not Just a Pretty Face,” which consisted in its entirety of celebrating a litany of jobs that women now hold, kicking off with – you guessed it – T.V. talk-show host.
Otherwise, Twain played it pretty safe with love songs and odes to self-esteem like “What a Way to Wanna Be!” (there are nine exclamation points in the 19 song titles on Twain’s most recent album, “Up!”), in which the poster girl as famous for her navel as her pipes reassured her female fans, “No – oh body’s – perfect!”). Easy for Shania Twain to say, no doubt.
But in the end, what was really most surprising about a show that had a fair share of pyrotechnics and fireworks was that it utterly lacked any sense of joy, passion, drama, effort or sensuality. Instead it was all about Twain’s smile and her easygoing, relaxed attitude and delivery. And never have 20,000 concertgoers sounded more easygoing and relaxed in response.
[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on October 11, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]
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