Gwen Stefani Returns to the Stage for Exclusive Pre-Grammy Concert

Among the devotees spotted in the crowd at the MasterCard-hosted event: Jack Nicholson and Garbage's Shirley Manson.
Chris Willman

When Gwen Stefani announced a few years ago that she’d given up her solo career, she apparently meant it, at the time. “Never in my life could I have imagined singing these songs again,” she declared, Saturday night at downtown L.A.’s stately Orpheum, a few minutes into her first solo show since the end of 2007.

That still left open the question of whether Stefani is now able to imagine singing all those hits from her two previous albums outside of No Doubt again, as, although she has a third solo album coming out this year, she apparently has no plans to tour behind it. If this ridiculously entertaining, ready-for-primetime show was just a one-off, Stefani fans would probably agree that that calls for a deeply sad-faced emoji.

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Everything about Saturday’s concert was so expertly rehearsed and elaborately visualized and choreographed that it seemed impossible to imagine it wasn’t the kickoff to an extensive world tour of arenas and amphitheaters. Yet she’s apparently committed herself to only touring with No Doubt in the foreseeable future, starting with a prominent date for her once and future band at Las Vegas’ inaugural Rock in Rio Festival in May. The raison d’etre behind this supposedly singular evening was Stefani’s corporate deal with MasterCard, which had the cash on hand to lure the singer back to her “Hollaback Girl” phase and allow her to rehire a coterie of costumers and break-dancers. The lucky 2,000 on hand would no doubt like to thank the retailers of America for contributing their 3 percent fees to make this very expensive-looking gig possible.

Jack Nicholson may consider himself a hollaback girl, too, since he could be seen clapping along with that song in his prominent spot above the crowd in one of the Orpheum’s boxes. (Other bold-face names witnessing the comeback included Garbage’s Shirley Manson and designer Jeremy Scott.) None of the rumored star names like Pharrell Williams actually appeared onstage with Stefani, but they weren’t missed: With a series of costume changes that showcased different personas, from homegirl to glamour girl, the singer managed to seem like a one-woman parade of stars.

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“Danger Zone” had Stefani in her most extravagant classic-Hollywood gown, as clips from films noir like Detour popped up on the big screen behind her. “U Started It” was a throwback of a different kind, visually, with the singer and her dancers all sporting classic adidas as they celebrated the very earliest days of hip-hop “fashion.” The hoofers wore colorful, vaguely futuristic wigs for “Harajuku Girls,” then kept them on when the motif turned to rockabilly dancing in a medley that included “Yummy” and “Bubble Pop Electric.” Busby Berkeley was invoked both in the video montages and live action. Stefani can never quite choose whether she’d rather be Salt-N-Pepa or Veronica Lake, which resulted in a barrage of imagery that made two hours seem to go by in about 20 minutes.

With part or all of 24 different songs performed, Stefani managed to include all but a handful of songs from both 2004’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and 2006’s The Sweet Escape and still have room for a few newer tunes. Her recent collaboration with Calvin Harris, “Together,” made its way into the set, as did her two recently released teaser singles for the third album, “Spark the Fire” and “Baby Don’t Lie.” Those hoping for a preview of more yet-unreleased material had to settle for the live premiere of “Start a War,” a downbeat new ballad co-written by Sia that repeatedly warns a lover: “This could get ugly.”

But less true words were never spoken, at least this night, as Stefani rocked a series of outfits ranging from bedazzled onesies anyone else out of her teens would have a hard time pulling off to leg-baring gowns fit for a sexy royal. At 45, after spending years in the tabloids mainly seen pushing baby strollers, Stefani didn’t look or act a day over 22. She could easily pass for one of the ingenues she's coached on The Voice, but for the decades’ worth of accomplishment that informs an unexpectedly commanding performance like this one.

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For fans, the answer to “What You Waiting For?” is, obviously, a series of reruns of this show that even Midwesterners and Visa cardholders could get a crack at. That doesn’t look to be in the cards, although a MasterCard spokesperson said the sponsor will follow the Orpheum show with “future Priceless Surprises for our cardholders from chances to spend the day with her to private shows.” So maybe the break-dancers don’t need to go back into retirement just yet. 

Setlist:

Spark the Fire
Rich Girl
What You Waiting For?
Baby Don’t Lie
Cool
Together
Early Winter
Medley: Harajuku Girls/Yummy/Don’t Get It Twisted/Now That You Got It/Bubble Pop Electric
Start a War
Luxurious
4 in the Morning
The Real Thing
Danger Zone
Wonderful Life
Orange County Girl (excerpt)
Crash
U Started It
Wind It Up
Hollaback Girl
The Sweet Escape

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