Five years ago, the most dynamic woman in pop pulled an about-face, going from tomboy to fashionista, from Just a Girl to Hollaback Girl. As the leader of ska-pop band No Doubt, Stefani was already a huge star. But she wanted to taste life as a solo chick, so Gwennie ditched her backing mates and headed out. Two hit albums and two hot tours weren't the only way she filled her away time. She also started a fashion line, had a couple of kids with hubby Gavin Rossdale (Kingston! Zuma!) and revamped her entire image. The luxe starlet — an even bigger star now — was miles from her salad days as a riot girl.
But lookee here: In the biggest reunion tour of the summer, Stefani has rejoined her old mates, and Tampa Bay fans will find out on Tuesday at Ford Amphitheatre whether No Doubt can still summon that old magic.
If a recent appearance on American Idol is any indication, the answer, sadly enough, might be no. I love Stefani, both solo and with the band, but No Doubt's TV spot was weak, sparkless, with the 39-year-old lead singer trying too hard to be slangy, hip, hard. Not only was the performance of Just a Girl awkward, but it reeked of bad acting. For an incandescent star who rarely strikes a false chord, it was uncomfortable television.
Is that how the whole tour is going to be? Yikes.
If that wasn't omen enough, No Doubt is planning a new album — but only after this tour. Which means they'll primarily be doing old hits, a.k.a. the same set list they did last time they toured. Oh, and don't expect Rich Girl or Wind It Up. Early set lists show no Stefani solo hits; apparently she wants to keep her worlds very separate.
Yes, this is still a tour worth attending. No Doubt is being chummy with fans, opening up a general admission "dance" floor. Fans who purchase premium seats will also get the group's entire digital catalog, including one new song. Plus the openers, the Sounds and Paramore, are more than throwaway acts.
But for some reason, Gwen might feel as if she has to change personalities: solo star or No Doubter, catwalk or dive bar. It doesn't have to be that way. The woman has more charm and charisma than most. Just rock it naturally, Gwennie. We'll love you even more.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.