First, let me say that I have not been to a stadium show in over 20 years. Ticket prices boarder on ridiculous, they are impersonal, shallow, market generated mega-money productions, and, well, I had this jaded notion that I was too cool for stadium shows. Things have changed. I can afford a ticket; I feel removed enough that I can objectify the marketing; and I am not cool now, and probably never was. I make no excuses for getting tickets to Gwen Stefani, other than good ol' impulse buying. Back in February it seemed like the perfect novelty to rush online at noon for overpriced tickets. As the actual date of the concert approached, I realized I had no idea what to expect.
My better half likes Gwen Stafani, and this is where most of my exposure to Gwen comes from. The same person who corrects my grammar finds some brilliance in lines like "I must apologize for acting stank" and "the shit is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s..." and I would agree that it's pretty funny. There is no denying the catchy infectiousness of her hits like "Hollaback Girl" and "Sweet Escape": if you hear them twice, you are in trouble. And at this point I have read a number of articles/statements that label Gwen Stefani as the pop queen that can: a woman who can have a family and a personal life without exploiting it for all it's worth.
My first lesson of the stadium show is that they start on time. We got there about 7:45 (fifteen minutes after the 'start' time!) and the show had already started. By the time we wondered around trying to figure out where to go in, passing the $35 t-shirts and $85 hoodies, Lady Sov had finished. When we found our seats, I asked the teenager next to me how many songs Lady Sovereign had played, and she said "Like four or five of something." "Was it good?" She nodded her head, but her mom chimed in, "It was too loud." Right on. The youngsters are damaging their hearing just like I did.
AKON (or is it Akon) came up next. He's a Konvict with a K who spent most of the show calculating the best time to take off his sweatshirt, then his t-shirt, then his wife-beater undershirt, rather than performing. I can also report that there was no sexy-time dance with underage girls, and there was no throwing of audience members. The fact that he didn't even bring up his recent controversial actions, like most badasses would, makes me believe that he may actually be in some trouble. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about his performance or the production. After seeing Akon, I was convinced the show was going to be lame.
Boy was I wrong. I should have known that all the stops would be pulled out for the main attraction, but I was kind of unprepared. Keeping in mind the first sentence of this post, this was the slickest production I had ever seen at a rock concert. Forget the giant Eddie at the Iron Maiden concert, this is the twenty first century! I'm a sucker for visuals, and at this show there was plenty to look at. Huge racks of moving lights, giant LCD screens filled with eye candy, dancers and costumes and props and Gwen at the heart of it all.
While she may not be the best singer in the world, she is a good performer and knows how to work the crowd. The disappointing abbreviated time for the two opening acts was obviously in preparation for the headliner. Gwen performed for almost two hours. Amongst all the dancing and singing and multiple outfit changes, I was impressed. She even did a jog out to the audience where she performed a song surrounded by the fans, leaving the safety of the lights and props behind. I was also impressed that she had a real band. I was under the impression that singers at concerts like these sang over pre-recorded tracks with maybe a DJ as the soul musician. Instead she had an eclectic band that included a trumpet and trombone, multiple percussionists, the standard keyboard and guitar, and a bass player that may have had a better voice than Stefani herself.
One thing that Gwen and I seem to have in common is a touch of the yellow fever. Asian motifs abound. Who knows, maybe she has a Japanese producer for the shows. One was kind of a Memoirs of a Geisha/Kill Bill/Lady Snowblood show up on the screen, and another with some appropriated images of Hokusai's "Wave." Not to mention that three of Gwen's four female dancers are from Japan. Ironically, some of my first exposure to Gwen was in Thailand. No Doubt happened to be in Bangkok at the sometime I was about seven years ago, and they were all over Thai MTV which is what every tourist cafe was tuned into. While a No Doubt concert was not in my frugal backpacking budget at the time, I'm glad I took the impulse to for to the Gwen Stefani extravaganza.