EmptyGibson Amphitheatre, Universal City
Friday, April 27
Naysayers take note: Gwen Stefani may be rich and is no longer "just an Orange County Girl," but Friday at the Gibson Amphitheatre she proved she could still put on a pretty damn good show.
When Stefani brought her first solo tour to the Hollywood Bowl in fall 2005, it was an undisputed smash, proving that the No Doubt frontwoman had the goods to be the Madonna of the new millennium. In the year and a half since, she became a mother, dropped her second solo album ("The Sweet Escape") to mixed reviews and has faced a critical backlash questioning her integrity.
None of that mattered much during Stefani's 90-minute set Friday since the hipper-than-thou No Doubt fans that have accused her of selling out likely were at Coachella. And it's just as well because Stefani has moved on from the modern rock KROQ crowd to the more mainstream confines of contemporary hit radio, which seems content to let her reminisce about her life before fame without calling her out for being dishonest.
No one seemed to mind much when Stefani sang "If I was a rich girl," from her "Fiddler on the Roof"-inspired hit "Rich Girl," despite the fact that she is now a very well-to-do pop star and clothing entrepreneur. The crowd likely was too caught up in the infectious beats and flashiness of her show -- which included four Harajuku girls, a quartet of male dancers and a six-piece backing band -- to question the song's sentiments.
Stefani opened in dramatic fashion. With her dancers dressed in cops-and-robbers garb, the stage split in two to reveal a golden jail cell with the starlet contained within, as Stefani launched into her recent hit single "The Sweet Escape." Akon, who is supporting Stefani for much of the tour, wasn't on this date, so he didn't reprise his guest spot on the song. However, Stefani did throw in a surprise appearance by Garbage singer Shirley Manson, who stepped onstage to lend vocal support on the moody, new wave-influenced "Wonderful Life."
There was plenty of spectacle and costume changing during the set, but there was a lack of emotional connection, at least until Stefani made a sprint into the crowd during the electro-funk "Don't Get It Twisted." While that song was throwaway nonsense, Stefani stayed in the center of the theater near the soundboard to perform "Cool," a touching ode to a former lover, which provided the emotional knockout that was missing earlier.
Later, after Stefani returned to the stage, she launched into "Orange County Girl," in which she claims "a lot of things have changed/but I'm mostly the same." Believe that or not, Stefani proved Friday night that she's still a fine entertainer.