Rexall Place, Edmonton - November 18, 2005

MIKE ROSS - Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 2:34 AM ET

EDMONTON - A pop concert can still be a great event even if the music isn't great - as long as the rest of the show is engaging enough.

And boy, Gwen Stefani sure knows how to engage.

She possesses great assets with the fashion sense to back them up, as witnessed by almost 15,000 fans in Rexall Place last night.

She wrapped them all up in a bubbly megapop spectacle aimed squarely at the hordes of healthy young women who turned up to see her, and on the buttery end of a full moon, too. Kismet!

Personally, I particularly enjoyed the pink short shorts costume, though the baby doll ensemble she made her entrance in was nice, too.

Then again, there was the black hot pants getup in her funky Rich Girl, a homage to If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof. The set had a pirate theme at that point. Insert booty joke here.

But gosh, then there was the marvellous sparkly cocktail dress in Cool, a light pop confection that sounded so '80s it ought to come with a hike in interest rates. It's so hard to choose. So you could have enjoyed last night's concert as a fashion show. Or a music video, sure.

It also had merit as a choreographic tour-de-force - thanks in large part to a quartet each of talented dancing geisha girls and B-boys.

An amazing display of break-dancing is always a show-stopper. As is watching four beautiful women writhing about dressed as Japanese schoolgirls gone wild - and we're back to more great assets.

And the music? Sure, it was swell. Gwen made the call herself, calling her massive solo album, Love Angel Music Baby, a "stupid dance album ... a fun side project" that inexplicably exploded into a superstar phenomenon of Cheridian proportions.

She didn't want to tour with this. She had to. Fun job if you can get it.

Sounding like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna rolled into one, Stefani's songs spanned the fun side of pop music, absorbing soul, funk, R&B, hip-hop and rock into its gaping maw of glitzy glamour and slick production.

There wasn't a whole lot of substance beyond the art of the catchy pop hook and booty-shaking groove - and what's wrong with that? - but some fine musicianship from the backing band offered a little more verve than on record.

There were more silly moments than serious ones, plenty of candy-coated filler and a maximum daily dose of sass.

With her showmanship honed from years in her band No Doubt, she was an effervescent hostess. Sang pretty well, too.

The show opened with Harajuku Girls - the name of this tour - and also included the aforementioned Rich Girl and the huge hit, Hollaback Girl. Sensing a theme? This "girl" - 36 years old, as it turns out - has got it going on. She's "da bomb," as the cool kids say. Do they still say that? Make that"bombshell."

Opening act M.I.A. was a non-stop tribal carnivale of Bengali breakdown with a DJ and two female dancehall rappers whose strident voices dwelt in an exotic alternative universe of musical harmonics.

Maybe they were singing East Indian quarter tone scales or something. It was fascinating, if a bit repetitive, like a surreal exercise video with elements of Cibo Matto and Luscious Jackson. Come to think of it, we haven't heard much lately from either of those groundbreaking female rap groups.

Hard to know if M.I.A can escape the same fate. While last night's crowd seemed to like it, this act might be a tad too "out there" for the Wal-Mart nation. Bonus points for the wooden tiger.


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