Review: ‘Gwen Stefani’

Gwen Stefani, who's gone from a singer for a marginally successful ska band to an international style icon and musical hero in the last decade, said it best, halfway through her sold-out show at the Hollywood Bowl. Talking about her intentions for last year, she said, "Wouldn't it be dumb to write a stupid dance record?" She did.

Gwen Stefani, who’s gone from a singer for a marginally successful ska band to an international style icon and musical hero in the last decade, said it best, halfway through her sold-out show at the Hollywood Bowl. Talking about her intentions for last year, she said, “Wouldn’t it be dumb to write a stupid dance record?” She did. “Love Angel Music Baby” (Interscope) is filled with inane non sequiturs like the now-infamous “This shit is bananas/b-a-n-a-n-a-s.” But, like any good, stupid dance record, it’s also a lot of fun, and in her first headlining solo tour, she makes sure to take that contagious energy and transfer it to a huge, Vegas-style show.

The stage set is a massive, three-level set of stairs with a trapdoor at the top, from which Stefani appears and reappears, mostly after changing costumes, from a Madonna-esque dress to a Marilyn-esque bathing suit to what can best be described as a zebra sailor.

Lest you think it’s all fluff and circumstance, her band plays the retro-funk of songs like “Harajuku Girls” on the sides of the stage, not quite in the spotlight but not quite out of it either.

Her rhythm section — which includes David Bowie sidewoman Gail Ann Dorsey on bass — is thankfully funky, with plenty of opportunity to replace Stefani’s unique but limited voice as the center of attention.

This is not necessarily a music show, though: Synchronized dancing prevails, and Stefani’s cadre of break-dancers are among the most solid to grace a huge stage in recent memory.

Even the slower, silkier pop songs — like “Luxurious,” which borrows a booty beat from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” — are performed like production numbers, Stefani cooing from within a sparkling silver dress that melts onto her body like butter on toast.

Four shows in, the set’s pacing needs a little work: “Hollaback Girl,” unquestionably Stefani’s biggest solo hit, comes at the end of the main set as a drum-line spectacle, leaving the encores to be a bit anticlimactic.

But thankfully, Stefani doesn’t follow the rules of most solo performers; if she did, she’d be leaning on her band No Doubt’s hits to maintain crowd control. Instead, she takes a risk, playing through her entire solo album without even a mention of her regular group.

When the material’s this stupidly strong, and the show put together around it this stupidly entertaining, those rules can confidently go out the window.

Gwen Stefani

Hollywood Bowl; 17,391 seats; $125 top

Production

Presented by Samsung and Verizon Wireless. Reviewed Oct. 21, 2005.

Cast

Band: Stefani, Gabriel McNair, Kristopher Pooley, Gail Ann Dorsey, Warren Fitzgerald, Zach Alford.
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