‘All my homies showed up tonight?’: Gwen Stefani opens her summer tour on a high note
Gwen Stefani had an announcement to make.
“This is really fun!” she said about halfway through her concert Tuesday at the Xfinity Center near Boston. It was opening night of a North American tour that will keep the pop star on the road through mid-October, and there seemed to be a touch of relief in her voice as she told the audience what she was thinking.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she added.
Who could blame her?
The This Is What the Truth Feels Like Tour, named after Stefani’s strong studio album from earlier this year, is her first full-scale road show in nearly a decade. Much has changed since 2007, of course, not least in the 46-year-old singer’s personal life: “This Is What the Truth Feels Like” documents the traumatic unraveling of her marriage to rocker Gavin Rossdale and her subsequent romance with Blake Shelton, the country hunk with whom she recently starred on “The Voice.”
Yet the outside world is different, too, with a new generation of pop stars having largely supplanted Stefani by borrowing the ideas she’d borrowed from Madonna. In 2012, a hyped reunion record by Stefani’s band No Doubt quickly fizzled, a sign perhaps that listeners had lost interest in this once-ubiquitous Orange County native. And though “Truth” debuted at No. 1 when it came out in March, Stefani’s tour has been dogged by reports of low ticket sales.
Given those clouds, you could understand a fear of rain in Mansfield, where she played an outdoor amphitheater approximately two-thirds full.
But her eventual conclusion was accurate, or close to it: This was pretty fun!
Backed by a four-piece band and eight dancers — and wearing an outfit that called to mind a Scottish toreador — Stefani moved breezily through her catalog of solo and No Doubt hits, including a crunchy “Just a Girl”; “Hella Good,” which inspired a legitimately rowdy dance party in front of the stage; and “Wind It Up,” with a video backdrop of mountain scenes to complement the song’s daffy “Sound of Music” sample.
“All my homies showed up tonight?” she asked the crowd after that last tune. “You have to understand how starving — absolutely starving — I am for you guys.”
You have to understand how starving — absolutely starving — I am for you guys.
For two songs Stefani was joined by her old pal Eve, who’s also the tour’s opening act. “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” their initial collaboration from 2001, had an infectious swagger, while a faux-posh “Rich Girl” showed Stefani still knows how to play with her image.
In a way, Eve’s presence (as opposed to that of someone more au courant) indicates Stefani’s resignation to a mature audience: folks in their 30s and 40s, let’s say, out for an evening of easy summer nostalgia.
“Remember this song?” she asked before sliding into “Luxurious,” a slinky slow jam from her first solo album. “Old school.”
Yet Stefani sang plenty of new stuff from “This Is What the Truth Feels Like,” which she made with the Top 40 pros behind hits by Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez.
“Make Me Like You” rode a frothy disco groove, Stefani’s platinum ponytail bouncing in time to the music. “Red Flag” and “Asking 4 It” had bumptious hip-hop beats. And the sleek “Where Would I Be?” rejiggered Stefani’s love of ska and reggae for the digital age.
She also invoked the recent upheaval in her family with “Used to Love You,” accompanied by a giant close-up of Stefani looking weepy, and the new album’s delicate title track, which she sang with arm dramatically outstretched. Inevitably, “Don’t Speak” took on fresh meaning in the wake of her divorce, as did “Cool,” a mid-’00s solo track about maintaining a friendship with an ex.
Not that she’s eager to buddy up with Rossdale. “This is your punishment!” she declared during “Red Flag,” in which she tallies some of the warning signs she missed in a lover who turned out to be unfaithful.
But the way she made you think about “Cool” underscored how durable Stefani and her music actually are.
May all her homies continue showing up every night.
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