LAS VEGAS — Shania Twain sure knows how to make an entrance. And without a doubt, she leaves a lasting impression. That much is clear after her opening night performance of Shania: Still the One on Saturday night (Dec. 1) in Las Vegas.
I can think of one brassy country star who liked to ride her motorcycle right onto the stage. I can recall a guy who seized the spotlight by suspending himself in midair. As for doing both at the same time … well, that’s one splashy way to announce your return to the spotlight.
Now, add a few horses to the mix, four male dancers, the shiniest bodysuit that Vegas has ever seen and a string of undeniably catchy hit songs, and you’ve got yourself a show.
Encouraged by diehard fans giving multiple, midset standing ovations, Twain delivered her first public performance in eight years at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace. She’ll perform dozens of shows there over the next two years.
After three upbeat songs on Saturday night, she paused to say hello to the crowd — and started weeping. Through tears and surprised laughter, she warned the audience, “You guys are going to get me emotional, and then my eyelashes are going to start falling out.”
After some chit-chat, she addressed her absence, saying, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been up here. … I realize what I’ve been missing.” Her humility was obvious. Then she snapped back into show biz mode and announced, “It took a long time to get back here, but there is no way but up from here!”
And, yes, then she sang “Up!” In fact, she sang just about every song you remember and some that you might’ve forgotten, like “I Ain’t No Quitter.”
Occasionally, she veered toward the over-the-top side of Vegas productions, especially when she was singing and dancing with sexy cowboys in front of a Wild West saloon set piece. In the background was a cartoon train riding over a cartoon canyon. Later, the desert backdrop was studded with large pink cowboy boots, also drawn like cartoons.
But I guess you just kinda have to go with it.
Much to her credit, though, the songs have held up remarkably well. For example, “No One Needs to Know” and “You Win My Love” are still a treat to hear. Meanwhile, “Any Man of Mine” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much” will zoom you right back into the 1990s. And it’s impossible not to echo her when she says, “OK, so you’re Brad Pitt.” (Or at least that’s what I told myself after I caught myself doing it.)
Equally important to her enduring material, Twain’s voice is supple and distinctive. The acoustics are such that every syllable can be heard. Without that thickly-layered album production behind her, she is able to put the focus on the personality in her voice. In the interim between Caesars and her last singing performance, she faced the frightening loss of her singing voice, but her actual vocal cords were never damaged. So now that she’s back, she’s able to go for the big notes and sing to the last row without fear of injury.
As the show progresses through the next two years, Twain and her creative team might want to consider tightening up the campfire segment, in which she pulled out audience members and brought them onstage for some banter. (There was a lot of talking in this portion.) And some of the stuff on the digital screens behind her was just plain weird, like those big-eyed alien goldfish that were floating above the landscape, peering down with spotlights.
At other times, the digital components were beautiful and compelling. A quick montage of her videos reminded casual fans just how much her music videos created her public persona. Although during another part of the show, when she was filmed striking poses with a leopard on a leopard-skin sofa, it must have been sort of awkward for the leopard.
The final three numbers are true showstoppers, which I’d love to talk about here, but I don’t want to give away the details of the most dazzling part of the show. With the big finale, especially, that did impress me much.
Photography and filming are strictly prohibited in the venue — and they mean business. We saw a couple of people ushered out of the venue for disrespecting the rule. Twain told the audience that she ditched her own cell phone two years ago.
Wait a minute, a concert without everybody having cell phones at the ready? That is so 1990s. Twain helped define country music in that era, and it’s a fun place to revisit, but it’s not like she’s living in a time capsule. And if she wants to make new music, I think people around the world will be eager to hear what she has to say.
After all, take away all the animals and accoutrements, and she’s still the one female country artist who’s sold more albums than any other. And she’s got my attention from this moment on.View photos from Shania Twain’s opening night in Las Vegas.