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Shania in concert at Madison Square Garden.
June 17, 1999


Twang With Muscles: Shania Twain's Country

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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 music. 
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 the
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 High School. 
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 formulas. At
the Garden, she merely gave them her all. 

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company 

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