Stefani puts on the glitz


Awash in sequins, Gwen Stefani reflected on being an "ordinary common girl" while sparkling like a jewelry box come to life. She's pop aristocracy, with a Marie Antoinette wardrobe and the regal air of someone who takes out the trash in high heels, but she remains a little self-conscious about her status, the princess who occasionally wears her tiara like a crown of thorns.

"A lot of things have changed, but I'm mostly the same," Stefani sang during "Orange County Girl," a song in which she details a blue-collar past of selling makeup at the mall, making out to "Purple Rain" and trying to decide who she wanted to be.

Stefani's got that last part figured out by now: She wants to be all things to all people, the humble queen, the salt-of-the-earth superstar, the contradiction in terms.

Stefani's convincing enough in this role, though she hardly looks the part, a leggy, camera-ready bombshell with a pouty, Betty Boop voice who smiles like she's running for office.

She's enamored with ostentation -- we stopped counting the costume changes at six -- and she tries on songs like she does dresses, constantly swapping one style for the next.

As a solo artist, Stefani's a jill-of-all-trades, a tough talking B-girl, a purring chanteuse, a bouncy new wave revisionist.

Live, her show is as lavish as her get-ups.

Backed by a six-piece band and a giant illuminated "G," Stefani swished her hips next to a gang of Harajuku girls and break dancers at The Pearl, with her No Doubt bandmates in the crowd alongside a myriad of celebrities, from Pam Anderson to Paris Hilton.

"All the freaks are out tonight," Stefani observed from the stage.

Engulfed in all this glitz, Stefani high-stepped across the stage in an elaborately choreographed show that could've passed for a Broadway musical in sight and sound.

She vamped her way through radio-friendly hip-hop ("Yummy," "Hollaback Girl") and Dayglo pop ("Cool," "The Sweet Escape").

Stefani sounded best, however, on a pair of tracks that mined the moody '80s rock she grew up with as a kid.

"Early Winter" is a sad-eyed reflection on lost love that Stefani sang by leaning into her mic stand as if it was the only thing holding her up. "Wonderful Life" is an equally overcast tune that could pass for a Depeche Mode B-side.

These songs work because they cut through the layers of production and studio sheen lacquered onto Stefani's solo works, which are pointedly plastic sounding at times, mimicking the tinny sound of much Reagan-era pop.

On her own, Stefani is willfully self-indulgent, happily lost in her teenage record collection. She yodels through songs, samples Rodgers and Hammerstein compositions, and doesn't seem to care if it makes any sense or not.

Truth be told, it doesn't really have to because it's all of Stefani's many incongruities that ultimately define her.

"I'm just an ordinary girl, living in an extraordinary world," she sings, carrying herself like the opposite was true.

 

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