It defies conventional wisdom in the music biz: Shania Twain gave her best concert performance promoting her worst album.
That’s what happened Tuesday at the jam-packed Xcel Energy Center. Even though one-third of her set list was drawn from last year’s slow-selling, hitless and utterly forgettable “Now,” this was easily the most rewarding show she has given since making her Twin Cities debut in 1998.
In the past, the queen of ’90s country music has come across in concert like a telegenic robot, devoid of emotion, spontaneity and personality. That was even the case in 2015 when she returned to the road after a 12-year hiatus from touring (due to vocal problems attributed to Lyme disease and dysphonia, and marital issues).
However, at age 52, Twain is finally showing her humanity onstage. On Tuesday, her patter seemed more sincere than practiced. She even seemed to get emotional when talking about visiting Paisley Park on Monday and how she and Prince were going to work together back in the day but never got around to it.
And she seemed genuinely playful when she invited three fans (one to carry the train of her outfit) to walk with her from a satellite stage to the main stage; she then asked them to lift her onto a grand piano.
At one point, Twain owned up to the fact that she’s not a dancer, but she did little routines with her dancers, who did lifts and dips with her to great effect.
Without trying to shamelessly promote her new album, Twain explained what prompted her to write some of her new songs. She seemed sincere if simplistic in her explanations.
But the crowd of nearly 15,000 came to hear those hits that (re-)defined country music in the ’90s. Crafted for maximum radio and arena impact, her songs were relentlessly peppy and relentlessly catchy with a relentlessly booming kick drum.
The fiddle-fueled “Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You),” which features a simple-minded lyric, and “Honey, I’m Home,” one of her anthems of belly-button-baring feminism, sounded as potent today as they did 20 years ago.
To be sure, Twain’s voice has grown deeper and raspier. That was especially apparent when she showed snippets of a few of her classic video clips while she was offstage making one of her seven outfit changes during the two-hour set.
Speaking of outfits, Twain seemed to change her image, going for sexy instead of sex kitten. She favored long gowns (slit way up her leg), long skirts and long shrugs. Yes, there was the blue catsuit and a black sequined number with thigh-high boots for the encore, but she was mostly rockin’ age-appropriate class, not expensive Vegas-y trash as she used to.
One thing Twain hasn’t figured out is songwriting. Having co-written with then-husband/producer Mutt Lange during her heyday, she hasn’t mastered the art of clever lyrics and infectious music on her own.
The new “More Fun” was so dirgey that it was no fun. “Soldier” was so somber and obvious that it was a good thing she was sitting on a trapeze in midair to command the crowd’s attention. The deep-voiced ballad “I’m Alright” was so literal and bland that only a half-dozen fans lit up their cellphones to support her.
Luckily, the new Shania could turn to the old Shania’s material. “Whose Bed Have These Boots Been Under” and “Man, I Feel like a Woman” impressed me much.
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719