The name of her latest album and her current tour is “This Is What the Truth Feels Like,” and for nearly two hours Friday night at the Sprint Center, Gwen Stefani gave a crowd of nearly 10,000 a taste of truth and reality, one spiced with humor, anger, strength, defiance and the unwavering notion that redemption and reward are on the other side of betrayal and sorrow.
Backed by a four-piece band and a troupe of gymnastic dancers, Stefani took her audience on a lively tour of her catalog, which goes back to the early 1990s and her days with the ska/punk/pop band No Doubt.
She opened with “Red Flag,” a percussive pop-rap anthem from the “Truth” album about ignoring the obvious in a relationship: “Big mistake, red flags fly / Right here, but I close my eyes.”
She followed that with “Wind It Up,” a track from her previous album, “The Sweet Escape,” now 10 years old.
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Stefani had been off the radar for years. Her previous performance in Kansas City was with No Doubt at Starlight Theater in July 2009, more than seven years ago. By then, she was a mother of two sons; a third was born in February 2014. Eighteen months after his birth, she filed for divorce from her husband, Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of the nominal British rock band Bush, citing irreconcilable differences, though the media reported that infidelity on his part was the catalyst.
Thus the “Truth” album was born, and so was her public relationship with country star Blake Shelton, newly divorced from country star Miranda Lambert and Stefani’s co-star judge at the time on “The Voice,” a reality talent show.
All of this gossip and is pertinent only because it puts into context the emotional tsunami behind the “Truth” album and tour: Stefani, 46, to paraphrase a Loretta Lynn song, is out to prove that she can walk away from a wreck. “I’ve been starving for you for seven years,” Stefani told the Sprint Center crowd. Then she performed like it.
She followed singer/rapper Eve, who, backed by a drummer, a DJ and four dancers, delivered an energetic set of her best-known songs, including “What Y’all Want,” “Gangsta Lovin’,” “Satisfaction,” “Eve” and “Tambourine,” which closed her set.
Eve reappeared during Stefani’s set to join her on one of her own songs, “Let Me Blow Your Mind,” and one of Stefani’s, “Rich Girl,” an adaptation of “If I Were a Rich Man” from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Those were just two of many highlights. The others: the reggae/ska-infused “Underneath It All,” the first No Doubt song of the night; “Make Me Like You,” a high-confection pop song that showcased the dynamic moves of her dancers; “Cool,” an irresistibly jaunty pop tune, which she introduced with: “I love this song”; a barnstorming version of “Hella Good,” another No Doubt song; “What You Waiting For,” a track from her debut solo album, now 12 years old, which was accented by some stellar trumpet filigrees; the reprise of No Doubt’s funk-infested version of Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life”; “Don’t Speak,” a hit breakup song from her No Doubt days; and “Used to Love You,” a declaration of heartache and liberation sprung directly from her divorce.
Stefani is as much an entertainer and personality as a singer and pop star. She expressed her gratitude to her audience effusively and connected with them all night. Three times she brought fans on stage, none more touching than the young girl who had cross-stitched a gift for Stefani and who got a mauling embrace and a smartphone selfie for her efforts.
Stefani closed with a three-song encore that included “Truth,” in which she declares her stake in her new relationship — “maybe I deserve this boy after all that I’ve been through” — then the girl-empowerment anthem “Just A Girl,” another No Doubt favorite.
The finale was “The Sweet Escape,” an expression of contrition and remorse but also of faith in hope and love, sentiments that aptly capture the essence of this show and its headliner, who, these days, is wrapping herself in silver linings.
Red Flag; Wind It Up; Baby Don’t Lie; Obsessed; Where Would I Be?; Cool; Make Me Like You; Underneath It All; Misery; Luxerious; Harajuku Girls; Let Me Blow Your Mind; Rich Girl; Hella Good; What You Waiting For?; Rare; Send Me A Picture; It;s My Life; Asking For It; Don’t Speak; Naughty; Used to Love You; Hollaback Girl. Encore: Truth; Just A Girl; The Sweet Escape