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Live Review: Gwen Stefani in San Jose, CA

Gwen Stefani and No Doubt are two separate entities. The vocalist went out of her way to prove it Tuesday (10/18) at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. But, in doing so, she may have gone too far.

During the second gig of her inaugural solo tour, which kicked off two nights prior in Phoenix, the 36-year-old Southern Californian ignored her past in order to focus on her 2004 solo debut, "Love. Angel. Music. Baby."

To some degree, that's to be expected. She needs to concentrate on her own album in order to distinguish the difference between her solo show and a No Doubt performance. The problem is that the CD, despite boasting four hit singles, really doesn't have many songs that translate well in a live setting.

The best course would have been for Stefani to gently lean on the No Doubt songbook, which would have still allowed her to focus mainly on "Love. Angel. Music. Baby" while providing the audience with a few much-needed shots of adrenaline.

As it turned out, however, some members of this initially pumped-up crowd were figuratively sitting on their hands and literally yawning four songs into the set.

Besides the lack of strong material, Stefani truly seemed lost on stage without a band. Oh, sure, she was backed by a group of competent musicians that re-created tracks like "Crash" and "What You Waiting For?" with painstaking deliberation. These hired hands, however, hardly constitute a real band in the same sense that No Doubt does.

It didn't take a mind reader to figure out that Stefani missed interacting with the No Doubt guys, especially former lover and bassist Tony Kanal. Anyone who has ever seen No Doubt in concert can attest that the singer truly feeds off the band's energy.

Energy, sadly, was in short supply on this night. Stefani seemed to be on autopilot as she cruised through lukewarm renditions of "Harajuku Girls" and "Rich Girl."

She tried to make up for the dearth of worthy live material and her missing friends from No Doubt by putting on a Britney Spears-worthy extravaganza that was utterly unsuitable for both the song selection and her style. There were dancing girls and b-boys, music videos and numerous costume changes, an elaborate stage set and forced spontaneity--none of which really helped further the evening. (OK, granted, the breakdancing was pretty cool at times.)

Whether all the mediocrity was forgotten or further underscored when Stefani performed a great version of "Hollaback Girl" to close the main set is really a question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. One way or another, it was an example of Gwen being all Gwen can be—-and that didn't happen often on this night.

The opener, Black Eyed Peas, had much better luck with its set. The band—-which features the four-MC attack of Fergie, Will.I.Am, Apl.De.Ap and Taboo—-had the crowd up and grooving to such favorites as "Pump It," "Where is the Love?" and "My Humps." Like Stefani, the Peas saved the big one for last and turned out a superb set-closing version of "Let's Get Retarded."

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