DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gwen Stefani performed at the Neil Blaisdell Center on Friday night, with Hoku Ho as the opening act.
Stefani steps up the fun for Blaisdell show
ONE OF the risks that Hawaii runs as "Crossroads of the Pacific" is catching big-name stars on a downswing during their concert touring schedule.
Acts tend to book a show here after a long stretch on the road, with some making it painfully obvious while performing that they would rather be on a plane heading back to the mainland. Other times, catching a band as they prepare to head for Asia or Australia reveals a set full of missteps as they try to work out all the kinks.
Luckily, neither of those scenarios played out Friday as Gwen Stefani performed the first of two sold-out concerts at the Blaisdell Arena. She was in top form, giving fans close to two hours of nonstop entertainment after an opening set by former Hawaii resident Hoku Ho.
DON'T EVEN bother to ask -- No Doubt wasn't in the building, and Stefani stuck solely to material off "Love, Angel, Music, Baby" and "The Sweet Escape."
The only connections to the band that started her career some 15 years ago were the presence of long-time touring band member Stephen Bradley (who celebrated his birthday Friday), and a mention that Stefani was indeed working on new tracks with her bandmates.
As sirens blared and the Harajuku Girls roamed about the lower level of the arena, Stefani kicked off her set with "Sweet Escape," instantly bringing the crowd to its feet. Fake money rained from the ceiling during the first verse of "Rich Girl," followed by the first of more than a half-dozen costume changes and more material off her newest album.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gwen Stefani performed songs from "The Sweet Escape" and "Love, Angel, Music Baby" during the concert.
"Yummy" brought a strange retro vibe, with Stefani rocking an apron and white gloves as the Harajuku Girls danced in neon-colored dresses that looked more like tutus. Then, before moving into "4 in the Morning" and "Luxurious," she took the time to address her fans.
"You have no idea how happy we are to be here right now," Stefani said. "It's the end of the rainbow, really."
ONE OF the more impressive aspects of Stefani's performance was her ability to keep the crowd's attention through some of her most forgettable solo material.
After jumping off stage to accept a lei from one adoring fan, she wisely pulled the plug early on "Early Winter."
Sure, it was a calculated move to allow for yet another costume change, but the only redeeming quality of that performance was bassist-vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey taking over at the end.
"Wind it Up" and "Danger Zone" were tolerable for only Stefani's most hard-core fans, but she gets bonus points for kicking it up a notch with her stage presence.
She ran from one end of the stage to another, interacting with fans in the first few rows before acknowledging those in the risers and toward the back of the house. Large video screens on either side of the stage allowed everyone to see how genuinely happy Stefani appeared to be involved with the crowd.
After a funked-up version of "Hollaback Girl" with her six-piece band, she expressed her gratitude.
"I feel like I'm at home," said Stefani. "When I was 19, I went on my first trip ever ... and I went to Maui."
She went on to talk about Hawaiian heirloom jewelry and how much she wanted to buy some during that vacation here, but didn't have the money at the time.
"But now, I have like 14 bangles," Stefani crowed. "And it's all thanks to you guys!"
THE HIGHLIGHT of the evening came a few minutes later, when Stefani bolted from the stage in the middle of "Cool" to be with her fans.
It was obvious that something was up, as Blaisdell security stretched yellow tape near a section of risers before the song started.
In a move probably executed numerous times during "The Sweet Escape" tour, the singer sprinted to a small stage behind the sound board with two members of the band, mugging for the crowd and nearly inducing heart attacks for teenage girls lucky enough to get near her.
Shortly afterward, she surprised her own security staff by rushing to the top of the risers on the Ewa side of the arena, then running to the top of the mauka risers before returning to the stage.
Amazingly, it seemed very few people made an attempt to touch Stefani -- in typical Hawaii fashion, everyone was well-behaved and respected her personal space. She even managed to pick up another lei from a fan during her jaunt around the arena.
Wrapping up with "Orange County," Stefani extended the song with an interlude that included a thank-you to her crew and a moment in the spotlight for her eight backup dancers. She also stopped to accept gifts from her fans, including a hand-decorated jacket and a drawing of her young son.
Even after an encore of "Real Thing" and "What You Waiting For," it was apparent that Stefani felt a strong connection to the crowd. With more than 40 shows under her belt this year and a full European tour planned after a short month off, one would think she'd rather be ensconced in a five-star hotel with her family while in Hawaii.
Judging by her comments throughout the night and a willingness to stay and sign a few autographs before leaving the stage, Stefani hasn't forgotten those who helped her achieve success.
But Gwen, do us all a favor: The next time you come to Hawaii, bring the rest of No Doubt with you!