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.