She’s a pinup, but she’s not a put on.
Known as much for her sexy midriff as for her vocal prowess, country star Shania Twain had plenty of preconceived notions to shed Saturday during her soldout concert at the Kohl Center.
After all – with the help of her husband, famous rock producer “Mutt” Lange, whose credits range from albums by AC/DC to Bryan Adams – Twain sold more than 16 million records before touring. Video airplay and several bouncy feminist-lite hits launched her popularity to match tireless veteran Reba McEntire’s star status in less time than it takes to apply lipstick.
Country fans, however, demand to see their favorites in concert. Even Garth played two shows in one night at the Rock County 4-H Fair shortly before headlining arenas.
Skeptics? Yep, Shania’s had a few.
From that standpoint, Saturday’s show was a satisfying one-two punch to anyone assuming Shania is a country Spice Girl.
Confident and polished, the 32-year-old Canadian displayed sufficient showmanship. No one pulled strings from above the stage.
For two hours, she charmed the crowd, playing the part of everyone’s big sister rather than a video vixen. Despite wearing black leather pants and a tiny vest and sporting humongous hair, she never used the stage to tease anyone.
This was a family show – I’ve never seen more youngsters at a country concert – and Shania reached out by inviting kids and teens onstage as well as using nine members of the Madison Children’s Choir during “God Bless the Child.”
She also promoted a local food bank, talking (in a rare personal moment) about experiencing hunger during her difficult childhood.
So why did Saturday’s show feel warm and fuzzy, but rarely satisfying artistically?
Shania’s music comes packaged as a generic rock and country hybrid. Her ballads are, um, loaded with sugar.
The lyrical power of the tunes, most of them co-written by Twain and Lange, never surpasses similar material done by Patty Loveless and many other female country singers in the last decade. Her one pop crossover hit, “You’re Still the One,” sounds like a Gloria Estefan reject.
Sure, Shania blurs the line between country and pop/rock, but so what? All it’s done is water down country radio and proved young country fans don’t need twang.
It took more than half the show before I noticed she had a steel guitar player in her band because the “rock” guitarists dominated the sound.
As an aside, Shania’s eight-member band seemed selected as much for their ability to cheerlead the crowd as for their musical talents.
Still, Shania picked a fantastic opening act: the Irish/Canadian group Leahy, whose 30-minute set emphasized instrumental firepower and “Riverdance” footwork. Joining Shania for an encore, Leahy showed how to produce sparks without the headliner’s frequent pyrotechnics.