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June 17, 1999
Twang With Muscles: Shania Twain's Country
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By ANN POWERS
Shania Twain has a hard body. The muscles on the country-pop superstar's
abdomen, whose display in midriff tops shocked Nashville and made her a
heroine to women who lunch on Balance Bars, show the effort of someone
who never skips the gym. Every aspect of Ms. Twain's show at Madison Square
Garden on Tuesday night emanated from that core: it was hyper-energetic,
highly controlled and determined to astonish the lazy. Yet the effort Ms.
Twain puts into being a superwoman dims her chance to make genuinely affecting
The stir Ms. Twain has generated is warranted. She and her husband,
the producer Robert John (Mutt) Lange, have enhanced country music's formula
with nutrients borrowed from rock, like a kick of sexiness and a healthy
dose of drums. Songs like "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" and "Don't
Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)" update country's continuing domestic conversation
from the viewpoint of a frankly liberated (if not feminist) woman who expects
her man to be a partner as well as a prince. Ms. Twain high-kicked through
those songs and other
uptempo hits, buoyed by a nine-piece band seemingly pulled from the
casts of "Rent," Stomp!" and a Tae-Bo exercise video. The music sped along
with little chance for any one musician to make a mark, although numerous
heavy-metal guitar solos, one on the pedal steel, signaled excitement.
Three fiddlers fortified the band's sound; their numbers were doubled when
tap-dancing Leahy family, who opened the show, returned for one song.
Other guest noisemakers included a small choir and drum corps from La Guardia
Ms. Twain gave little regard to her own singing, more interested in
signing autographs and scurrying around than in wringing any emotion from
her voice, an instrument definitely better suited to the conversational
approach possible in a studio. Since eight of her band members sang backup,
she had little need to worry that the strain of touring would show.
When Ms. Twain and her band did pause to play a ballad, other effects,
like the spinning stool the singer occupied during "You're Still the One,"
guaranteed that the crowd's pulse would not slow. Most slower songs featured
rolling bass drums that made them sound like excerpts from "The Lion King."
Ms. Twain's embrace of percussion is another admirable risk, reconnecting
country with the African-American line in its ancestry. But the rhythms
Tuesday night were as stiff as everything else.
Spectacle now reigns in pop; it's a safe substitute for the anarchistic
intensity that gave classic rock and soul their risky magic. Audiences
have learned to wink at shallowness and musical deficiencies when a group
delivers a bang-up multimedia show. Ms. Twain is a product of these times,
but she could transcend them if she trusted her own desire to tinker with
the Garden, she merely gave them her all.
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
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