Gwen Stefani Shows Tokyo What the Truth Feels Like: Live Review
With its telltale yodel straight out of the Sound of Music, Gwen Stefani announced herself to the crowd at Tokyo’s Zepp DiverCity by jumping straight into “Wind It Up” to kick off the show. Gwen’s got a new album out, and to celebrate This Is What the Truth Feels Like‘s launch she trekked to the Land of the Rising Sun for a special concert on March 16, her first Japan show in eight years.
Stefani and her herd of dancers paraded their way across the stage to the beat of the hypnotizing Neptunes-produced drums for a high-energy rendition. Sporting the blacktipped, dip-dyed hairdo she’s rocked on The Voice, Gwen paired stylized tartan trousers with a cropped black leather halter that felt more like a nod to her No Doubt days than the fashion she’s worn in support of her solo efforts. Following the Sweet Escape single, she launched into “Rich Girl” from Love Angel Music Baby, her Japan-centric debut.
Finally it was time to address the crowd. “Are you serious right now? This is happening?,” she asked the nearly 2,000 people assembled at the near-capacity venue, her tone incredulous. If ever there was an appropriate setting for Gwen Stefani to launch a new album, Tokyo fits the bill. Her Harajuku-inspired visuals, lyrics and backing dancers of the past have long paid tribute to the famed Tokyo fashion district, and even if her songs’ topics have shifted to nursing her current heartbreak, Japan still plays an outsize role in her iconography. While conversations surrounding appreciation and appropriation have evolved since her debut, the crowd’s reaction definitely seemed to read as a seal of approval for all things Gwen, past and present.
During “Baby Don’t Lie,” she performed as the visuals from its music video projected behind her in all their technicolor glory. For the dramatic ballad “Lonely Winter,” she performed by herself in front of slow-motion visuals of her striking introspective gazes in front of floral imagery.
“Harajuku Girls” brought about the first of the night’s costume changes, which would take her through an array of looks from her Alice in Wonderland era to vixen in red. Midway through the song, her band launched into a beat-centric breakdown before morphing into “Don’t Get It Twisted.” The ska-tinged song’s carnival rhythms came alive thanks to a live horn section. Soon, the percolating beats of “Bubble Pop Electric” came throttling forth as her dancers alternated swing dancing with miming being in a car as a send up to the drive-in inspired lyrics. Keeping faithful to Love Angel Music Baby’s track list, she launched into “Luxurious,” her dancers now in leopard print while her backing visuals cast her Andy Warhol-style in hot pink and orange. “Back It Up” elicited the biggest reaction: Instantly everyone’s arms were in the air, where they stayed for the entire song without instigation from Gwen.
“You don’t know the amount of amazing life you’ve given me by listening to my music,” she said, before responding to specific fan declarations from onstage. After a few more songs she exited to let her band play medleys in her absence, complete with guitar wahwah pedals and horns in full force — including an instrumental of her feature on the Eve track “Blow Ya Mind.”
After announcing she’d be playing a new song as “a treat,” she went on to perform “Misery” live for the first time. Despite the title, it’s an anthem of elation rather than a rumination on the failure of her marriage, and it has undeniable hit potential in a way her most recent singles haven’t measured up to. Based on the video playing behind her, it looks like they already have a handwritten lyric video ready to go. At its close, she thanked the audience for being part of the experience of its live debut.
The most striking thing about the concert was that it ran like a full on stage show rather than a promotional vehicle. Spanning nearly two hours, Gwen touched on nearly all of her solo catalog leading up to This is What the Truth Feels Like. With the show’s end approaching, she reached back to the beginning with her inaugural single “What You Waiting For?” During her introduction of the track, she revealed it was the first song she wrote, influenced by Japan and therefore leading the way for the entire album to be touched by her love for the culture. The hits didn’t stop there, as she trotted out “Hollaback Girl,” current single “Used to Love You” and, after a marching bandesque interlude, closed her encore with “Sweet Escape.”
Gwen left the stage only to return for a final bow alongside her dancers, and to shake hands with the entire front row. As legions of fans exited the venue to head back home, you could hear groups of people echoing Akon’s sing-song contribution from the set’s final track out on the sidewalks and in the subway station well into the night.
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