It’s fitting that Gwen Stefani should open her Harajuku Lovers Tour—at least on this night, her first and only in the Big Apple—with Debbie Deb’s “When I Hear Music” booming from a giant tower of speakers. Gwenie Gwen herself name-checked the helium-voiced one-hit wonder as an influence on her solo debut Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Unfortunately, the classic ’80s dance song was followed by the low-energy “Harajuku Girls,” the show’s official opening number, with Stefani rising from beneath the stage on her throne to the first orchestral strings of the song, the titular girls flanked on either side. While it made sense thematically, the performance practically halted the show’s momentum before it could even get started. (The next song, “What You Waiting For?,” would have made for a much better opening.)
Despite having only one album under her belt, Stefani’s set still seemed chock-full of hits. Even songs that haven’t been released as singles—“The Real Thing,” which featured a backdrop of Stefani frolicking as Marilyn Monroe on the beach, “Long Way to Go,” a song about interracial love which she dedicated to the late Rosa Parks, and “Serious,” which she dubbed “a fucking ridiculous song” and that’s why we love it—seemed like chart-toppers (albeit from another era) in their own right and drew screams from the largely female crowd. The shuffled L.A.M.B. selections sandwiched a pair of new tracks, the dramatic “Orange County Girl” being the stronger of the two and a promising preview of Stefani’s rumored sophomore effort.
“Who am I?” Stefani asked modestly at one point, in wonderment over the fact that she was playing Madison Square Garden. While the likes of Britney Spears have attempted to emulate Madonna’s famously theatrical stage shows with high-concept, low-brow knockoffs and hollow, if any, narrative threads, Stefani has instead chosen to focus on performing straight to her audience, no doubt a remnant of being the frontwoman of one of the biggest bands of the past decade. Judging by the choreography, the costumes (all garish L.A.M.B. creations), and the sets, it seems like there isn’t a lot of record label cash being pumped into the Harajuku Lovers Tour. But who needs all that when your star oozes personality? What she lacked in pop superstar stagecraft she more than made up for with overt enthusiasm. During the show’s encore (a thumping, crowd-pleasing “Hollaback Girl”—what else?), Stefani brought fans on stage to dance, and even knelt down to take a photo with two little girls who tried to follow her off stage. Now that’s bananas.