I’m not sure every one can remember the first piece of music they purchased as a child. The first cassette tape or CD they snagged at the store during a trip with mom or dad – but I can. I was 7, and like everyone else with ears in 1996, I had fallen in love with No Doubt. I can still vividly remember putting my allowance on the store counter and then quickly freeing the Tragic Kingdom cassette from it’s cellophane prison. From that point on I was sold on the idea of No Doubt, and although I was too young to really have any idea what Gwen was singing about, I knew it felt right. I knew that it made me smile.
For 20 years now, I’ve followed both No Doubt and Gwen as a solo performer. Save for 2012’s Push and Shove LP (which was merely okay), I’ve loved every ND/Gwen release. I’m particularly fond of Gwen’s 2004 solo debut Love. Angel. Music. Baby., which I will defend until the day I die as one of the best pop records of my lifetime.
So you can imagine my excitement at catching Gwen Stefani last night at Dallas’ Gexa Energy Pavilion. Touring in support of her latest solo record This Is What The Truth Feels Like, Gwen spent two hours pouring her heart and soul out for huge Texas crowd who could not have been any more welcoming.
In fact, in all the shows I’ve seen at this particular venue I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a rapturous crowd. This was quite unexpected as the tour has been plagued with low ticket sales in a large number of markets. Dallas, however, was not one of these markets. The pit was full, the seats were full and the lawn underneath the stars was full – all hot and sweaty after baking in the Texas sun before it finally retreated into the horizon.
By the time Gwen hit the stage shortly before 9 the crowd was ready to go. She started with the new Red Flag before segueing directly into the irresistible Wind It Up from 2006’s The Sweet Escape. She played a lot of material from this year’s new album but managed to plug in most of her biggest solo songs throughout the evening.
Somewhat surprisingly to me, she even played a handful of No Doubt songs. She did this sparingly on her last solo tour years ago, but given how much the songs amped up the audience they definitely deserved a place in the set. Hella Good remained a bass-driven dance club monster of a track while the reggae-tinged Underneath It All was a highlight early in the set. She would also revisit the seminal Don’t Speak (the night’s cell-phone video overload moment), Just A Girl and even No Doubt’s arrangement of Talk Talk’s excellent It’s My Life. Lots of old goodies for those in the audience who’ve followed Gwen longer than she’s been on The Voice.
Speaking of The Voice, Gwen’s fellow coach and lover Blake Shelton came out past the show’s midway point to perform a duet of their country-tinged track Go Ahead and Break My Heart. It was definitely not my favorite moment of the night but good god did the Dallas crowd collectively lose their shit for the performance.
As far as Gwen’s solo material was concerned both Used to Love You and Make Me Love You popped off in a live setting, the former sounding more like an 80s synth track than it does on record and the latter giving me major Lovefool (as in The Cardigans) vibes.
Eve, who had served as the opener earlier in the evening, reappeared mid-set to perform both Let Me Blow Ya Mind and Rich Girl with Gwen. The two have great chemistry on stage together and while Eve’s opening set was entertaining by itself, it was something else to see the two together again.
Gwen’s voice was on point throughout the evening, and her live band was killer. It was pretty strange hearing No Doubt songs from a band that was most definitely No Doubt, but they did it justice. Long-time No Doubt tour member Stephen Bradley is actually in Gwen’s backing band, and he nailed a trumpet solo during Don’t Speak that simultaneously mimicked and outdid the original guitar solo. He also played a theremin during the new track Naughty, and that’s always a fun instrument to see someone play on stage.
My beloved Love. Angel. Music. Baby. album saw quite a few tracks dusted off and revamped for Gwen’s live show, including Cool, Luxurious and Harajuku Girls. It was Hollaback Girl, which served as the main set closer, however, that seemed to push the audience over the edge. Gwen herself said she was scared to see the crowd’s response to performing the song after how aggressively happy they had already been all night, and for the first time in a long time I felt like an artist was telling the truth when she said it had been one of the best audiences of the tour.
I find it impressive that Gwen has managed to keep gaining new fans through whatever means necessary for the last several years. While watching The Voice isn’t quite like little 7 year-old me buying a tape for the first time, it was nice to see so many 20/30-somethings and their offspring enjoying the show together. Something certainly seemed special last night, a more powerful connection between the audience and performer than I’m used to at a pop show. It may be a common platitude for some performers to say a specific show would never be forgotten, but for once I agree with Gwen – this was a gig I’ll remember for a very long time.
Red Flag, Wind It Up, Baby Don’t Lie, Obsessed, Where Would I Be?, Cool, Make Me Like You, Underneath It All, Misery, Luxurious, Harajuku Girls, Let Me Blow Ya Mind, Rich Girl, Hella Good, What You Waiting For?, Rare, Go Ahead and Break My Heart, It’s My Life, Asking 4 It, Don’t Speak, Naughty, Used to Love You, Hollaback Girl, Truth, Just A Girl, The Sweet Escape
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