In 2004, Gwen Stefani took what seemed like a big chance, stepping away from her role as singer in super-successful pop act No Doubt to go the solo road. Looking back, of course, perhaps it wasn’t such a gamble. Her first solo venture, Love, Angel, Music, Baby, was a stunning success, and in many ways it’s already eclipsed the accomplishments of her former band (who, to be fair, did have its fare share of hits). And, in the short time between 2004 and 2007, Stefani has established herself as both a queen of pop and a major force in the fashion world. Of course, no amount of high-end design—not even L.A.M.B. and Harajuku Lovers—can fill the seats. For that, you need a serious stage show.
Setting the scene for Stefani at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, reggae/R&B popster Sean Kingston performed radio smashes like “Beautiful Girls”, “Take You There”, and a remixed version of Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. After a brief intermission, the lights dimmed, and a sea of fans—parents with children and unaccompanied adults alike—began to scream in anticipation of the opening number. While her most recent album, 2006’s The Sweet Escape, didn’t fare quite as well as her debut (at least as far as critics were concerned), the massive arena was absolutely packed. This marked the penultimate show on Stefani’s The Sweet Escape tour, so anticipation was high—she had, after all, had plenty of time to perfect her performance. While many in attendance were certainly fans more familiar with her recent work, it was clear that more than a few No Doubt lovers were also in attendance.
Asian dance crew the Harajuku Girls—best known for their appearances in Stefani videos like “What You Waiting For”, “Crash”, and “Hollaback Girl”—ran into the audience in prison-uniform apparel, signaling Gwen’s impending emergence. Appearing in a gilded cage, Stefani sent the audience into controlled hysteria, opening with “The Sweet Escape” before breaking into “Rich Girl” and following with “Yummy”.
The mood changed as Gwen belted out ballads like “4 in the Morning”, “Luxurious”, and “Early Winter”—the latter being the singer’s “favorite song that she has been a part of.” The evening’s performance of “Wind It Up”, meanwhile, featured recognizable samples music from the The Sound of Music (perhaps a nod to the older folks in the audience?). Stefani soon rocked out “Danger Zone” before breaking into the anthem-like “Hollaback Girl”. Showing its adoration for Stefani’s biggest solo hit, the audience sang along: “This shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!”
The mood again changed abruptly, however, as Gwen performed “Wonderful Life”, with a dedication to her first boyfriend’s life (he apparently committed suicide). Overcoming her emotions, Stefani returned after a costume change and ran into the crowd to perform “Cool”. After a romp with the audience, she retook the stage for hometown homage “Orange County Girl”.
If the cheering was any indication, the audience wasn’t yet ready to say goodbye. No worries, since she came back out with her six-piece band for an a capella version of “The Real Thing”, in which she let her bass player sing a solo. The last song of the evening was “What You Waiting For?”, which included a dramatic piano intro. Stefani’s band was just as charismatic as she is, a band fit for a rock star—good thing, since that’s what she is. Indeed, everything from the set list to the visuals and props displayed a larger-than-life aura. One thing’s certain: years after Gwen Stefani first emerged as a major presence in the world of pop music, she’s finally got a show to match.