Shania Twain in San Diego/Robin Leach
SAN DIEGO — Former country rock Caesars Palace superstar Shania Twain celebrates her 50th birthday this week, yet looks and acts half her age with extraordinary, nonstop and nearly 2-hour vitality for her “Rock This Country Tour.”
At San Diego’s Valley View Casino Center on Saturday night, she dazzled with a humdinger of a knockout, power-punch concert. Rockers in their 20s wish that they had her enthusiasm and energy.
Backstage afterward, as we share birthdays one day apart (Aug. 28 and 29), Shania had champagne and two bombshell birthday announcements for me:
* Her current U.S. and Canadian tour won’t be ending in a goodbye.
* She’s decided that a 2-year return residency to Las Vegas is back in her plans.
It was our first interview since last December at Caesars when she talked about the possible tour.
“The tour is tiring, but I’m loving it. It’s become far more meaningful than I thought it would be. So many young people are turning out. We are getting an interesting cross-section of people in our audiences that makes it really great.
“Twenty years ago, I had parents bringing their kids, and now they’ve become grown-up college kids and bringing their parents my age. I love watching the people and their reactions while I’m onstage singing to them.
“It’s going so well that I’ve decided I’d like to extend it. I’m not ready to stop. We’re already talking about going onto Europe at some point.“
Shania’s glitzy, pyrotechnic-filled show in San Diego was her first here in 11 years and the 47th of the now extended to 75 that will end in October in her home country of Canada.
“All of my friends at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas gave me a map showing the first leg in red, and now we’ve added a new marker line in orange for the new American and Canadian cities,” she said showing me a photo of the travel itinerary.
Her tour with 15 equipment trucks for sound, lighting, video and rigging equipment includes 100 people in crew buses and her silver bus. Production officials hire another 200 in crew at each stop along the route.
“First, I have to finish the new album this fall. Six tracks are already completed. I’ve written 38 songs in total, and now the process is underway to narrow that down to another six or eight to finish recording.” It would be her first album since 2002’s “Up.”
“Then Europe and maybe add on Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I have to take it phase by phase. But the ideal scenario is to come back to Las Vegas. I’d like to return to Las Vegas and do another couple of years in a residency.
“Las Vegas and the run at Caesars Palace turned out to be a nice surprise in that we liked Las Vegas so much. Everybody was so nice there. There was always lots to do there. We felt very comfortable living there.
“It was a wonderful experience from start to finish. It was very successful all the way around. I was so nervous about opening there. I think I over-rehearsed to calm my nerves.”
Her two-year run at Caesars Palace ended last December. On Sunday night, Shania performed in Fresno, Calif., and then flew directly through the night to her home in the Bahamas.
“I’ll get home by 7 a.m. Monday with about one hour to spare to put my son into the start of the new school year. I’ll have time to change — but maybe still in my stage makeup,” she added.
“We have 2 1/2 weeks off, but my voice is sounding so strong I want to continue singing. On Wednesday, we’ll start recording the remaining next album songs before resuming the tour in mid-September.” (Sept. 12 in Spokane, Sept. 13 in Portland and Sept. 15 in Boise.)
After it wraps Oct. 22 in Prince George, B.C., she’ll complete the album and prepare for Europe. “We could return to Las Vegas next fall, 2016 or early 2017. I would be very happy to be back in Las Vegas,” the top-selling female artist confirmed.
“This tour has been a real celebration reuniting with fans in their own hometowns. That’s something I hadn’t done for a decade. This is the most dynamic show we’ve ever done, completely different from our Las Vegas run.”
The concert is a fiery, rock-themed assault from the get-go, with the seven young members of her six-man, one-woman band raising the roof with G-Force as she opens atop an illuminated glass rising 30-foot platform The opening fireworks and lighting are so insanely bright, blazing and blinding, she wears red-tinted sunglasses for the first number.
“It’s really hot with the explosions. Everybody scrambles to hit their marks so that we’re in front of the flames. Fortunately, the heat goes straight up.”
She continued: “It’s been very rewarding in that we’ve been able to donate $1 from every ticket sold to our Shania Kids Can charity, and we’ve already added two more schools to the program in cities we’ve been to, another one in the next two months and probably two more before it draws to a close.”
The eye-popping computer graphics of the two illuminated neon tigers towered over her for one number and the videomontage of her posed in numerous red outfits as if they were fashion pages torn from Vogue were sensational.
It was all truly fantastic, and as longtime San Diego Union-Tribune music writer George Varga noted: “Enough to make a KISS gig seem almost understated by comparison.”
Gavin DeGraw was her rip-roaring opening act here and joined her midway through her set for an explosive “Party for Two” duet, which she originally recorded with Billy Currington.
She didn’t disappoint fans who came for her hits that include “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,” “Still the One,” “Come on Over,” “From This Moment On” and the encore with “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.”
At one point, she mounted a brightly colored horse saddle and atop a rotating crane “flew” skyward almost into the arena rafters above the cheering crowd. She also waded into the audience guarded by four strong security guards aboard a rolling, glass-enclosed cart — call it the Shaniamobile victory lap!
She grabbed an iPhone attached to the end of a selfie stick to sing “Any Man of Mine” as she traversed the arena with the video broadcast on the large, above-stage screens.
The noise was deafening — almost louder than the explosion two days earlier in Los Angeles that had brought her concert to a standstill three songs short of the end.
“I’m just thankful that I wasn’t up on the saddle when the power failed. I’d have been stuck 60 feet up in the air. I have no idea how I would have gotten down. I’m buckled in up there, but I could have been left hanging, take off my boots and get down on a fireman’s rope ladder!
“Be assured that we had a technical meeting the next morning to discuss how we’d deal with that emergency if it ever happened again,” she laughed.
Shania brings glamour to the production with that fierce mane of blonde hair, dazzling Rolling Stones and AC/DC shirts, black fringe leather jacket, short shorts and four changes of thigh-high leather boots.
She’s as leggy as a flamingo and shows off her gorgeous gams changing into an almost one-piece, S&M-style, high-cut, sparkling sequined swimsuit with strategically placed shiny metal for her sexiest-ever encore performance.
I loved her “No One Needs to Know.” I loved her giving the band a break for her to sit alone on the edge of the stage to sing while she played her guitar. But most of all, I loved “ I Ain’t No Quitter.” She proved that in Las Vegas resuming after a nine-year absence when she literally lost her voice, and she proved it again Saturday night in San Diego.
The Queen of Country Pop suffered from dysphonia after her husband had an affair with her best girlfriend. They divorced, and she wound up being consoled by the girlfriend’s husband, Frederic Thiebaud, who went on to marry her.
With a promise to extend her tour and now a hoped-for return to Las Vegas, she summed up for me as we toasted each other with birthday champagne: “I’m having the time of my life. I’m in good spirits and having so much fun.”
There’s no way that this femme fatale is calling it quits even though she’s about to start her next 50 years. This is no longer her big farewell tour.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.