How I learned to stop worrying and love Shania Twain

Culture Music
Illustration by Christy Shao
This is relevant, honest. Illustration by Christy Shao

Of all the things I expected to see at Shania Twain’s Oct. 24 show at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, giant plasma leopards were not at the top of the list — or anywhere on the list, really. But there we were, and wouldn’t you know it: there were hella plasma leopards.

We’ll get back to that. But if we’re being honest, I went into Shania’s show with minimal expectations. I had forgotten all about my flippant media pass request made weeks earlier, and it was only that afternoon that I received confirmation that it was approved (so much for no plans on a Saturday night). I faced the prospect of attending a country show with some trepidation, but I forged ahead in the interests of journalism and self-discovery.

I considered undertaking some pre-show research, but let’s be real: if you listen to any radio station anywhere ever (and having worked in retail for so many years, I heard a lot), there’s a very good chance you’re already familiar with the bulk of Shania’s oeuvre. So off I went with Katie, my trusty expert and fangirl for all things Twain.

I can’t say I looked the part. Black jeans, a leather jacket, and an Iron Maiden T-shirt, a country boy’s attire does not make (though I did see one denim-jacket-wearing young man with a Rush patch, to whom I wanted to scream, “What are we doing here, man?!”). I stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the rhinestone-bedazzled denim-clad country moms, but I got in the spirit of things regardless, with a $7.25 stadium beer in hand to wash down the twangy country aftertaste.

Colour me surprised, though: Twain brought it hard. Dare I say it was probably the most fuckin’ metal country show I’ve ever attended (which isn’t saying much, as I have attended approximately zero). From the opening notes of “Rock This Country” (during which she ascended on a platform to the rafters, evoking such rock royalty as KISS), to the finale of “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!,” the show was all about spectacle and big hits. Considering I went in with a mindset to the effect of “How can I be a huge wiener about this,” I found myself swayed by it all.

But, back to the plasma leopards. According to Katie, these were a callback to the video for “Don’t Impress Me Much,” in which Shania wore a leopard skin outfit. Regardless of the backstory, I felt they were a little out of place at first; but here they were, shining forth from the two massive screens flanking the stage, and I admit that they grew on me. (An aside: at one point, these screens displayed flashing images of Shania dancing in a red dress. It looked like something out of an Avon commercial, and it was weird. But I digress.)

Ultimately, that slow acceptance of Shania’s brand of small-town-country-meets-stadium-rock flavoured my entire experience, and who am I to deny that? I’m a sucker for a good hook, and Shania has them in spades. (I have no doubt that Shania has her ex-husband/producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, who produced such megasellers as AC/DC and Def Leppard, to thank in part for this.) And her backing band was no slouch either, with members rotating between different instruments and providing some solid backing vocals. On one occasion, the band took over for an instrumental break while Shania changed outfits; the proceeding musical whirlwind sounded akin to Trans-Siberian Orchestra — an even odder fit than the leopards.

Most endearing for me, however, was Shania’s willingness to engage with the audience. There was the “I’m so happy to be here in VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIAAA” song and dance, of course, but there were some genuine moments of levity: at one point, a raving fan in the front row asked Shania to sign some article of clothing, which she was happy to oblige (and with tickets costing between $160 and $200, you’d hope she would); during “Any Man of Mine,” she was towed through the audience on a buggy by security, waving to her fans like she was the Pope (my notes at this point include a very forced effort to make “Twain Train” a thing, but alas). Manufactured or not, her willingness to get up close with those who support her was refreshing.

What’s left to say? Shania proved herself to me, but she didn’t have to. This show was about her returning from a ten-year hiatus to see her fans off (this is supposedly her final tour), and it didn’t matter if I was along for the ride or not. All in all, I’m glad I got to see one of music’s biggest stars bring the final chapter (?) of her career to a close. Just don’t expect to see my boots under anyone’s bed anytime soon.