While I fretted over the fact that in my honest opinion we were witnessing a mostly lip-synced gig, the audience couldn't have cared less.
Last night's sold out Spark Arena crowd spent much of the two-hour show with their hands in the air like they just didn't care. Or rather, as Shania Twain's lyrics to one of her 2017 comeback songs Swingin' With My Eyes Closed describe, "Fist up in the air / Oh like we don't care". And oh, they didn't.
They didn't care that the 53-year old Canadian superstar behind some of the biggest country/pop crossover hits of all time was at best, singing along with a dominant backing track. At times it was moot point if the band were even live too. Perhaps they were, but you shouldn't be having an inner-monologue whether to applaud the guitarist strutting the stage toward you, goading you for your appreciative screams, because you're unsure if he's faking it or not.
It's important to tread sensitively here because Shania Twain is both a commercial phenomenon – her 1997 album Come On Over remains the highest selling album by a female in music history with 40-million copies sold – as well as a true survivor. There's the abusive and tragic childhood, the philandering producer husband and the debilitating battle with Lyme disease. It was the latter that would ultimately prove so devastating that it would rob her of her voice and press pause on a career that made her the only female artist to have three consecutive diamond certified albums (over 10 million copies each within the US alone).
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Eventually she recovered enough that this occasional New Zealand resident set out on the road again, starting with a Vegas residency in 2012, a full North American tour in 2015 and a further American and international tour this year. The current 'Shania Now' production – in support of her first album in 15 years, 2017's Now – has been seen by almost half a million fans.
And they really are fans. On their feet from the moment their heroine announces her presence like a cowgirl crossed with a prize-fighter as she walks through the crowd, singing along full-voiced to the fine ballads that no doubt paid for that Wanaka hill-station with considerable change to spare (namely You're Still The One and From This Moment) and kicking their oft-booted heels up to That Don't Impress Me Much, Don't Be Stupid and finale, Man! I Feel Like A Woman!, there was a lot of love in that room last night.
Amidst multiple costume changes (ball gowns, semi-racy cat-suits, red-booted & leather jacket ensembles) and amiable chit-chat about the beauty of New Zealand and of rising above adversity, there's no doubt Kiwis still have an almighty sweet spot for the lady who first began melding pop and country before Taylor Swift had even started school.
It's just a shame it's not the reliably live-singing Swift she's taking performance cues from these days as opposed to a come-watch-us-dance artist as Britney Spears. For a songwriter like Shania Twain – even one who's been through hell – it's baffling she doesn't know she's better than that. But then again, judging from all those carefree fists in the air, there were few last night that minded.
Shania Twain performs again tonight at Auckland's Spark Arena and at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.