“I think songwriting needs a story to rise and fall, to go through different phases and moods, just like a story does,” Shania Twain tells Louis Theroux in her much touted episode of his podcast (highly recommended, by the way – her background is remarkable). That ethos – one of telling a story in music – rings true for her shows, too.
And let’s leave no doubt, more than gigs, Twain’s performances are, in the fullest, most engaging sense of the word, shows. Eileen Edwards, as her rather less glamorous everyday name goes, is only six records into a career that has included what’s thought to be the seventh highest selling album globally of all time, ‘Come On Over’. The 1997 album was, remarkably, already her third. It doesn’t take a lot of regular output, though, when you have a fanbase as loyal as the Canadian, and are quite so able to tell those stories.
Twain started making money in bars singing at the age of 11. Now in her 50s, she’s refined the art of the massive stage show. She opens by appearing semi-incognito near the back of the tiered seating, in a trench coat and pink glasses, and performing ‘Waking Up Dreaming’ as she’s slowly rolled, almost ceremonially, between the rows of the cowboy-capped audience.
A couple of minutes later she pops out at the bottom of the arena, appearing on stage in oversized pink cowboy boots, animal print leggings and a low-slung top, in front of a gigantic screen portraying a cartoon journey into space. Shania’s rocket dodges planets and stars during ‘Up!’, before we crash land in front of a large Ireland sign, and the first of what is to be an abundance of tracks from ‘Come On Over’ is dropped in ‘Don’t Be Stupid’.
There’s no question what Shania does is, largely, turned up to ten. There are two wild, super-camp and effortlessly entertaining backing singers strutting around throughout. The violinist runs away from alien graphics, ducks leaping horses, and occasionally sprints mid melody. The drummer looks like she’s having an absolute blast, and at one point, a smoke-addled motorbike appears for the singer to drape herself over.
We have to take a moment to nod at the broader staging, too. On the cleverly set out backdrop, an earthquake destroys a bar, a massive ‘parental guidance, explicit content’ warning hangs over the stage for the one track with a bit of sharp language, and there are several references to Dublin dropped in. It’s not far off a level you could watch as a video in its own right.
While the pink-tinged show aspects are superb, though, what’s still better is the way Twain engages with the audience, going off script. There are three or four little snippets of songs delivered a capella on request. A French fan who’s flown his dad in from Paris to see the show is welcomed on stage for a duet, and Mia, an eight year old from Cork, gets to sing a track, too. There are also a load of couples at candle-lit tables on stage for a gloriously soppy ‘From This Moment On’.
The whole experience is an ever-changing, boisterous offering where the songs are important, but it’s the energy and the ever-changing dynamic that elevates.
Overall, there’s country and the odd hint of disco, an air of the Disney about it all, and some corners of the set that are absolute tear jerkers. At one stage, we hop from fire and fury on ‘Pretty Liar’ to cheesy devotion on ‘From This Moment On’ in just a matter of seconds.
The whole thing is vocally glorious, too. Twain’s lyrics have sometimes come in for criticism, and there are certainly moments where they just feel a little basic, but they’re always delivered absolutely note perfect, and often with a weight of audience backing that almost overwhelms.
The highs are obvious: a huge chunk of ‘Come On Over’ is here, but once we’re through the head-spinning Shania Jukebox (featuring snippets of the likes of ‘When’, ‘Thankyou Baby’ and ‘Nah’), it’s into the meat of the set in the form of the mega singles.
A gorgeously sappy ‘Still The One’, described as a simple song (but perhaps her finest moment) is dropped early, but the encore is saved for the two 90s country-pop dancefloor fillers. ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ is signalled by an on-screen countdown to the ‘Impress Express’ leaving the station, and any temptation to roll the eyes at its lyrical lows is dismissed quickly by the sheer sing-along power of it all. ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman’ is similar: camp and obvious, and characterised by those seven uplifting notes and the “let’s go girls” quip. It’s performed in the outfit from the original video, dragged out of a museum for this tour.
This is an obvious performance in some senses, then, but equally exactly what you’d want: an engaged, vocally brilliant performer looking like she’s having the time of her life, and delivering a neatly packaged, glistening, glittery show straight into the hands of an adoring audience. There are lots of the hits, and sufficiently little filler, and the whole thing feels like a beautiful, enthralling throwback.
Sure, the price of tickets to this show might have made RTE this week, and they are high, but then again with the seventh highest selling album of all time, and a stage show that’s as manic and jubilant as it is engaging, that’s to be expected, perhaps. The whole thing – and screw it, we’re doing this – does impress us. Much.