“It’s been about 25 years since I stood on this stage,” since Shania Twain, not long after the kickoff to her set Sunday night at the Hollywood Bowl. She had that figured about right — the calendar shows she last played America’s most favored amphitheater on May 6, 1999. That was a few weeks shy of the moment that her signature song among all signature songs, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!,” peaked on the charts.
When she pulled it out as her inevitable final encore number Saturday, it still felt like it was cresting. It’s a song that may never have truly peaked until all the generations represented at the Bowl this Memorial Day weekend have passed away and/or the day the prerogative to have a little fun has been codified into the criminal as a felony. For as long as there are women, and gay men, and straight men relaxed with themselves enough to buy “Let’s go, girls” T-shirt and diode-blinking pink cowboy hats, Twain will own rights to the ultimate ladies’ night anthem, just as surely as she owns the federal trademark on exclamation points. (She does, doesn’t she?)
Twain’s Bowl date came about a month into a North American tour that is her first since an arena outing that wrapped up five years ago In the interim, she’s had another Las Vegas residency (pandemic-interrupted and then completed late last year) at Zappos, along with a new album, “Queen of Me,” which came out in February. Residencies are of course a dime a dozen nowadays, and said album disappeared from the charts almost as quickly as it was released, marking Twain as a mortal subject to the same passages of time as anyone else — in stark contrast to the way she was received at the Bowl, where immutable goddess status manifested itself in a sold-out show and resale tickets in the hours leading up going for a minimum $300 for the upper nosebleed/ganja seats. (Anyone who couldn’t afford the secondary prices for the Bowl still has a much more affordable shot at seeing Twain a couple hours eastward at the Acrisure Arena in Palm Springs this Wednesday.)
Twain did her best to live up to those expectations and present as a Marvel-level immortal Saturday, visually, anyway, although her between-song chatter always breaks the illusion by having her sound like a Normal Lady, not demigoddess. (It is a contrast her audience is willing to live with and embrace.) This touring production won’t set any records or break any molds for being the most elaborate show on earth, nor does it need to be, when Twain is her own ongoing special effect, and a set of stairs and single giant LED screen will suffice as set design. There is one giant prop that appears early in the show: a gigantic faux motorcycle that looks like something off a vintage Meat Loaf cover, partly configured in the shape of a horse, to invoke the stallion that Twain used to ride onto the stage at some point in her original Vegas residency in the early 2010s. She sits astride it — or lays astride it — for the length of a song early on, and then for the rest of the show, there are some super-cheesy electronic backdrops, like an animated cowboy saloon on fire, but really it’s about sashes and heels and wigs from then on.
Or a wig, not multiple ones, actually. The expectation coming into a diva-type show is that there will be multiple costume changes, but that proved not to be the case. When her two male backup singer-dancers broke were left alone early in the set to do a mimed joint tap-dance, it seemed like the occasion for Twain’s first refreshed outfit of the night, but it was really just a time-out to roll that faux chopper out on stage. Until the encore segment, in fact, Twain surprised probably everybody by wearing the same costume throughout — but when you’ve got a costume like Twain’s on Saturday, it might seem criminal to switch it out. She had faith, well-placed, that for the better part of two hours no one would stop staring at the high-level-lingerie look underneath her overcoat. It looked about 10 times as revealing as it probably was, which is probably why Twain was able to withstand the unseasonably cold temperatures in Hollywood (that, and being Canadian). It’s fair to say that the frizzy blonde wig she wore throughout the night was somewhat polarizing, but there was not much controversy about the effectiveness of the sheer look that is now burned into 17,500 fans’ brains forever. Long blue sashes attached to each wrist and boots to match added strong splashes of color to break up the monochrome sex appeal. (Her command of those epic sashes, and keeping them out of her way — not even getting them entangled up when she’d periodically sit down on a stool to play acoustic guitar — should get props alongside any of the more obvious choreography of the night.)
That look got jettisoned only for the two-song encore segment, for which Twain reemerged in a floor-length black coat and top hat, stripped off for the finale to reveal that the star was wearing the same bustier that she did in the “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” music video of ’97 — pulled out of a museum, she said, for this purpose. (Whatever museum that was has been bereft of it for a few years now, since she also slipped into it for a video and a TikTok a few years ago.) The outfit is iconic enough now that it’s hard to remember that, at the time, it seemed like a feminist appropriation of the mannequin-wear from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” now adapted to make a statement that a look that leggy could also be appropriate for women for whom the lights were on and somebody was home. She’s the woman who shows up at the class reunion in her late 50s still able to fit into her prom dress, with the crucial difference that nobody seems to hate her for it.
A Twain show is, as always, dominated by the great triumvirate of albums she made with producer/co-writer/ex-husband Robert “Mutt” Lange from 1995-2002: “The Woman in Me,” “Come on Over” and “Up!,” none of them less than diamond-certified, none of them deserving any less. These albums represent one of the great grand slams in the realm of pure pop — or not so pure, since there was enough actual country in them to allow for a twangier segment of the show that runs “Any Man of Mine,” “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” and “Honey, I”m Home” back-to-back. The ear candy was so strong on all those albums that it’s easy to forget there were emotions attached to some of those earworms, too. At least you forget it until she is on stage introducing “From This Moment On” as one of her great love songs, and you think: Is it weird for her to sing romantic reveries from that era and forget about what they’re attached to for her, letting fans own them for themselves? If it is, she’s not going to tell us; there are no “VH1 Storytellers” moments of reflection in a show this targeted to constantly entertain. Which it does.
Twain would be the last artist to ever open a vein on stage, and not even the half-dozen new songs from “Queen of Me” provide occasion for “let’s catch up” conversation. (This album feels a little more deliberately confectionary than the more personal one that preceded it, “Now”… more aimed at reclaiming commercial heights, whether that was possible now or not.) But you do always get what feels like a real glimpse into her personality, when she has a built-in fan interaction moment. On Sunday, just as she was reading off a card the names of the fans she’d be sharing time with, she was alerted that it’s “against the law” to bring anyone from the audience up to the stage — so she spontaneously found a way to walk down into the middle of the pit to hear the designated devotees sing her songs a cappella (they had won a contest on a cruise ship doing Shania karaoke). For someone who could easily keep up an aura of untouchability, it’s revealing, in a nice way, that Twain is kind of literally willing to get down in the trenches.
She also is surprisingly unbashful — even though it shouldn’t come as a surprise at this point — about singing live, which maybe is where the vulnerability really comes in for a pop diva of this era and stature. The ratios are about the same as they have been for Twain residencies and tours going back decades: A few songs sound to involve mostly or entirely pre-recorded vocals — like the opening number, which she performs while traversing the middle aisle of the Bowl, or a particular highlight ballad — but that leaves the vast majority of the show in which she’s singing demonstrably live. There’s little doubt that her singers and players — including an enjoyably thrashy female drummer — are doing most of what they do in real time, too. Some purists might say that any pre-recorded moments at all are a cheat, but by the oft-canned standards of Twain’s contemporaries, she kind of counts as almost a stickler for authenticity.
And here, maybe, is the paradox of Shania Twain: While stage candor, real or staged, is not her thing, for all the regality of a show like this, she kind of comes off as the kind of idol you could have a beer with. Sure, it would be a beer at a castle in Switzerland, and it probably wouldn’t actually be beer, and think of the NDAs. It’s just that she still exudes the lucky-Canuck attitude she carried when she first arose in the ’90s, along with the temerity of the thousands of vocal scales and squats required to keep it up. Man: she feels like a workhorse, and a natural woman, too.
Hailey Whitters opened with a strong set of material that further established why country traditionalists are looking to her to help keep the faith, and why she has the potential to be a suitable successor to not just Miranda Lambert but Trisha Yearwood, who just performed with her on the ACMs. (The latter’s “She’s in Love With the Boy” was performed as a medley with “How Far Can It Go?”) Whitters announced that, as of the previous day, she had her first top 20 single at country radio, with the set-closing single “Everything She Ain’t,” a good omen not just for her but for the state of commercial country.
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