A Nov. 7 Style review misidentified the bass player and backup singer in Gwen Stefani's band. It was Gail Ann Dorsey, not Meshell Ndegeocello. (Published 11/9/2005)
Gwen Stefani may well turn out to be the new Material Girl. But for this particular blond bombshell, "material" means rayon, lace and chiffon as much as anything.
Befitting a fashion-forward starlet with her own clothing line, Stefani's concert at the Patriot Center on Saturday was a colorful, elaborately staged celebration of style, like a runway show writ large. Stefani opened with "Harajuku Girls," a slinky synth-pop tribute to the wild sartorial sensibilities of Tokyo street culture, and she proceeded to change outfits no fewer than seven times during the 80-minute show, wearing at times a track suit, a selection of various layers of lingerie, a '50s-style bathing suit and a dazzling sequined dress.
The four Harajuku glam dancers who shared the stage with the headliner spent a similar amount of time sprinting through the dressing room, as did a quartet of B-boys, suggesting that the tour's wardrobe director is likely due a raise. Ditto the choreographer, lighting director and video producer, all of whom helped to create a pop spectacle that smacked of earlier-era Madonna, sans cone bras and corsets.
It was an impressive feat, given that Stefani is like a virgin when it comes to such extravaganzas and that, unlike Madonna, she doesn't really dance, no matter how funky the music may be.
Taking a sabbatical from No Doubt, which exploded out of the Orange County, Calif., ska scene and onto the top of the Billboard charts a decade ago, Stefani, 36, is enjoying success with her 2004 solo debut, "Love. Angel. Music. Baby." (And yes, synergy fans, that's also the name of her designer label, which operates under the abbreviation L.A.M.B.) The singer has taken to calling her electro-pop project "a stupid dance record." And while it's fluffy, silly and disjointed, the album does have several moments of fun retro brilliance, thanks largely to the handiwork of rhythm-track masters like Dr. Dre, the Neptunes and Outkast's Andre 3000.
Stefani's '80s-sounding flashback of a solo album has led to the road for what is effectively her multi-platinum-blond ambition tour. And what ambition! She arrived on the high-tech, tri-level stage seated in a throne, with a tiara on her head and a scepter in her hand -- as if to declare herself the new queen of dance pop. The pronouncement, though, was premature.
For one thing, her show was marked by a vocal sameness because of her relatively limited range. The most memorable singing of the night came when the bassist Meshell Ndegeocello took over the vocals at the end of "Luxurious." Ndegeocello's voice was rich and soulful, in stark contrast to Stefani's often pinched singing. It was also better than anything heard from the single-named singer Fergie during the Black Eyed Peas' opening set of high-energy, hook-laden, family-friendly pop-rap. (Ndegeocello cemented her status as the MVP of the show by teaming with drummer Zachary Alford, who's played behind Bruce Springsteen and the B-52's, to form a ferocious rhythm section that powered the best songs, including the foot-stomping "What You Waiting For?" and the buzzing, pulsating "Bubble Pop Electric.")
Also working against Stefani was her shallow catalogue. Though she sang the new autobiographical "Orange County Girl," her set was pretty much"L.A.M.B." in its entirety -- the forgettable stuff included. Thus the songs generally fit into one of two categories: those that elicited shrieks and squeals from those fashionable young Gwennabe girls who filled the sold-out arena (including, of course, the chart-topping "Hollaback Girl," during which four members of the backing band strapped on the drumline gear and hammered out a fantastic beat); and the lesser numbers, which basically caused the energy in the room to evaporate. Among the latter were "Serious," "Crash" and "Long Way to Go" -- which is what Stefani is looking at if she wants to catch Madonna.