Air Canada Centre, Toronto - December 9, 2005

JANE STEVENSON - Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:54 AM ET

TORONTO - All hail the new princess of pop! The day after Gwen Stefani picked up five Grammy nominations, including album of the year for her multi-platinum solo debut, Love. Angel. Music.Baby., and record of the year for Hollaback Girl, the 36-year-old singer debuted her first ever solo tour at the Air Canada Centre last night in front of a sold-out crowd.

And if there was any doubt about her royal status in pop music -- she previously fronted Orange County ska-pop outfit No Doubt -- Stefani first appeared in a tiara and robe, and sitting on a red velvet and gold throne that came out of the stage during the opening song Harajuku Girls.

Surrounded by four Japanese girl dancers, the so-called "Harajuku girls," Stefani commanded the audience from the opening note, even if the hour-and-20-minute performance was definitely of the lightweight variety in the music department.

Let's put it this way, Stefani is no real threat to pop music's official queen bee who she has so closely modeled herself after -- Madonna -- right down to the peroxide blond bobbed hair and red lips.

Still, Stefani is definitely a charismatic presence on stage and her solo career seems to have unleashed her femininity more than ever before.

Teetering around in sexy black stilettos, mini-skirts, short shorts, tank-tops, and one knockout silver sequined dress that recalled Marilyn Monroe during her hit Cool, Stefani seriously showed off her sex kitten/goddess side.

She also recalled her No Doubt tomboy persona whenever she donned a tracksuit or trackpants and couldn't seem to stay off the speakers or two little catwalks in front of the main stage.

Helping flesh out her performance considerably was a dynamite five-piece band, including bassist Gail Ann Dorsey of David Bowie fame, and four b-boys whose breakdancing moves were truly breathtaking.

In terms of set standouts, What You Waiting For?, and the follow-up, the New Order-ish The Real Thing, on which Stefani actually collaborated with Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook on her '80s-inspired solo record, and Crash, set the bar high early in the evening.

For The Real Thing, the Harajuku girls donned 40s-era bathing suits and carried plastic beach balls while Stefani herself was glamorously decked out in a red-and-white-polka dot suit in one of many costume changes.

And Crash saw some major audience participation from the crowd, divided into boy and girl parts.

Less inspired was the lame R&B number, Luxurious, the If I Were A Rich Man rip-off Rich Girl, and two new songs Wind It Up and Orange County Girl.

Stefani later redeemed herself with Cool, and the show-ending, school-band-like number, Hollaback Girl, the latter during which she dragged about a dozen fans on stage while dressed like Harold Hill from The Music Man.

A frequent visitor to Toronto previously with No Doubt, Stefani seemed particularly jazzed about crossing the border on her own.

"Look at you! You're so f--king delicious!" she declared of the diverse audience made up of females of all ages, entire families, couples and groups of friends.

"This has got to be the best Christmas present ever! I wasn't going to go out on tour but you kept buying my new record and I just had to come out and see you sing all the songs back to me! Alright Canada! You made my life tonight!"

There are rumours that Stefani, who is married to British rocker Gavin Rossdale -- formerly of Bush, currently with Institute -- is pregnant.

But anyone who can take three steps at a time up a staircase, like Stefani did last night, I have a hard time believing is with child.

Stefani also brought another multiple Grammy nominee with her, opening act and R&B/crunk queen Ciara, whose debut Goodies has sold millions of copies based on hits like 1, 2, Step, Oh and the album's title track.

The 20-year-old singer from Atlanta is up for four Grammys, including best new artist, but her frenetic 35-minute performance left much to be desired with canned music, a deejay and six dancers shaking their booty like they were at The Brass Rail instead of a hockey arena.

Not even Ciara's exquisite beauty, showed off to great effect in a black skintight catsuit, could mask the lack of live show.

With time, she may develop as a performer, but don't count on it.

SET LIST

Harajuku Girls

What You Waiting For?

The Real Thing

Luxurious

Rich Girl

Danger Zone

Long Way To Go

Wind It Up

Orange County Girl

Cool

Serious

Bubble Pop Electric

ENCORE:

Hollaback Girl


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