Rarely has so much—the double-platinum Love. Angel. Music. Baby.; "Hollaback Girl," the most downloaded song ever; and a month-long tour—been made from so little. Gwen Stefani admitted it at Key Arena on Monday, November 21. "This is insane because this is the tour I was never fuckin' gonna do, ever," she said four songs into her performance. Then she sighed, feigning annoyance. "But you kept buying the record!" Stefani doesn't have the best voice—bassist Gail Ann Dorsey upstaged her at least once—or songwriting skills, but her fashion sense, star power, and history as No Doubt's spunky frontwoman have made her an icon. Always a tomboy and a glamour-puss, her solo endeavors were bound to be as mashed-up a look at pop culture as they are.
Stefani is trying to—tick, tock, tick, tock—do everything she can before she dies someday (so she said in a recent issue of Spin), and deserves credit for that, although her privileged position in the musical world affords her nothing less. She reportedly didn't want to complete the L.A.M.B. project at times, with everyone from It songwriter Linda Perry to the Neptunes' Pharrell lassoing her back into the studio.
You're glad they did when Stefani performs the ballad "The Real Thing" in a retro bathing suit against a screen of her frolicking on a beach in the same thing, or sings her '80s-inspired hit "Cool" in a gown that shimmers like the multilevel stage's lights, coming off like style chameleon Cyndi Lauper for a new generation of girls who just wanna have fun. But when she busts out "Luxurious," an ode to being rich in love ("We know how to live baby/We're luxurious like Egyptian cotton") that borrows from the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets," you wish she'd left it there. Ditto for the Andre 3000 collaboration, "Long Way to Go," which features not only the most embarrassingly bad lyrics ever—"It's beyond Martin Luther/Upgrade computer"—but a motherfucking keytar solo. (In the studio, sometimes; onstage, God no.) It wasn't the only song that dissolved into riffage, but thankfully dance numbers like "What You Waiting For" kept the energy high.
My companion had just returned from Harajuku, one of Tokyo's fashion districts, and proclaimed Stefani's troupe of "Harajuku girls" (three from Japan, one from L.A.) stylistically accurate in their navy schoolgirl cardigans and tutus. They held their own against four b-boys—including Rock Steady Crew members Flea and Legacy—who debuted during "Crash," even during forced sequences where they appeared as nurses and doctors and (ugh) wind-up dolls to the breakdancers' toy soldiers. Not the only display of unintentional sexism, Stefani at one point urged the crowd's boys to chant "Back it up!" with the girls responding "You got it!"
The most annoying thing about her vanity project "Rich Girl," which brings to mind J. Lo's ludicrous claims that she's still Jenny from the block, not to mention a new song Stefani unveiled, singing "I'm just an Orange County girl/Living in an extraordinary world." As she encored with "Hollaback Girl," pulling the first two rows of thrilled fans onstage with her, it's clear that—for now—we really live in hers.