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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Shania: no frills, no spontaneity

Tacoma Dome, Tacoma, Wash., June 13, 1998

By Brian Wahlert

TACOMA, WA - Shania Twain's record company bills her first-ever world tour as "the premiere event of 1998" and says "the show is not about 'bells and whistles' but is all about music."

Unfortunately, in the 10th show of the tour, Twain's music did not have enough substance to hold interest through a two-hour show.

Twain came onto the stage to thunderous applause wearing a purple midriff-baring top and black pants and began singing "Man I Feel Like a Woman." With lines like "We don't need romance - we only wanna dance / We're gonna let our hair hang down," its basic message to women is "go out and have a good time."

It's a message that appeals particularly to girls in their mid-teens. In fact, if you only saw her from a distance and not on the two big video screens at either side of the stage, Twain could have been one of those teenage girls who adore her so.

With a big ponytail perched a little too high on her head, those trademark midriff-baring shirts, slightly gawky movements, and between-song patter like, "You guys are totally rockin' now," Twain seemed like a teenybopper star, a slightly countrified Tiffany or Debbie Gibson for the Nineties. She was a far cry from the sex goddess portrayed in her music videos.

But the purpose of a country concert should be the music and not what the star is wearing or how she acts on stage, and in this case there was at least a high quantity of music.

Twain had a nine-person band behind her on stage, including at various times three fiddles, an accordion and a harmonica. While music with multiple layers can work in the studio under a good producer's watchful eye, on stage that many instruments just conflict and make the overall sound muddy and the lyrics hard to distinguish.

Particularly on some of the ballads, Twain would do better to pare her sound down a bit.

The one highlight of the show, despite Twain's editorial comments about supporting local food banks before the song, was "God Bless the Child." Twain invited nine members of a local high-school gospel choir onto the stage to sing backup for her, and for one shining moment, the powerful message of a song's lyrics overcame all the glitz and glamour and careful choreography of the show. Even though every movement by Twain or her band was staged weeks ago, this song somehow seemed genuine and earnest.

Overall, however, the show was a disappointment. Like the record company says, don't expect many frills - aside from some fireworks and rotating treadmills, there are none.

Don't expect spontaneity either - Twain's show is as carefully planned and choreographed as Reba McEntire's, although Twain lacks McEntire's talent for theatrics. If you like Twain's lightweight brand of pop-country, then you'll probably enjoy her concert, but don't be surprised if what's entertaining and peppy for three minutes on the radio becomes tedious and grating when extended to a two-hour concert.

Opening act Leahy was a completely different story, however. These four sons and four daughters of a step-dancing champion mother and a father who played in a fiddle band have combined their Celtic folk and French Canadian step dancing influences into one incredible family act.

Bandleader Donnel Leahy is the brightest talent in the group. Having won fiddle championships throughout his youth, he displayed far more ability than any member of Twain's band.

But the rest of the Leahy clan, playing more fiddles, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and mandolin, was almost as impressive. And while Twain's big band just seemed to step on each other's toes musically, each member of this group added to the gloriously textured music.

The songs ranged from standards like "Amazing Grace," sung a cappella by the four sisters, and "Orange Blossom Special," to the closing medley off the group's only CD, "B Minor." On that song one woman started step dancing, then two, then all four. Finally, the four men joined them as the crowd came to its feet in a rousing standing ovation for the talent and showmanship they had witnessed. While Twain's part of the show seemed to drag on too long, the Leahy family's too-short appearance seemed only to scratch the surface of their talents.