If you were in northeast Fresno or Clovis on Saturday night, you may have noticed some strange things happening – maybe your watch stopped working or your satellite TV signal flickered. No, we weren’t visited by aliens or hit by a storm. The pull of one woman’s performance disrupted the area’s magnetic field.
Shortly before 9 p.m., a titanic force hit the Save Mart Center. Gwen Stefani, whose genre-bending career as a solo artist and No Doubt frontwoman stretches back 30 years, delivered a deafening knockout performance to an arena packed with devotees.
“Every single (expletive) time I come to Fresno, it’s the best I’ve ever had,” she said early in the show.
Given the 90 minutes that followed that statement, it’s hard to argue with her.
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The concert was an absolute shock to the system.
Gwen Stefani last played in Fresno with No Doubt in 2009.
Stefani was all over the stage, as were her six dancers and animated backing band. At one point, 13 people were performing. I pitied the road crew, as anyone trying to uncross a wire at that moment would likely have to start dancing or banging a drum to wait out the storm. Better to go with the hurricane than against it.
Colorful backdrops played on screens that resembled the fast forward and rewind symbols. Stefani, also a fashion designer, and her squad changed costumes a few times. It was enough to alter the aesthetic without reaching the ridiculous Katy Perry or Lady Gaga changing-after-every-song level.
It was by far the loudest show I have ever seen. The thumping bass and Stefani’s booming vocal delivery were matched – and at times drowned out – by the shrieks from ecstatic fans. It wasn’t only the typical high-pitched “wooo” scream often heard at concerts. Many fans let out far more guttural cries – as if not being there at that moment would cause them physical pain.
The last time I filled in for music writer Josh Tehee, I blasted Fresno audiences for their bad behavior. This was precisely the opposite.
The rowdy, excited throng loved Stefani in a way bordering on teen idol worship. A woman directly across from me was jumping around so forcefully that she broke her chair. An usher attempted to revive it. A security guard finally came by to call time of death. But no matter. She would not need it.
Stefani returned the love in kind. Several people in the standing-only floor section made signs. Those whose neon poster boards made an adequate case for themselves were brought on stage for hugs and selfies.
Stefani said she enjoys closing her tours in Fresno because of an energy reminiscent of her native Southern California, which drew more than a few good-spirited boos from the crowd.
“I want to remember Fresno, because I feel like you’re my homies here,” she said.
The long performance covered everything from No Doubt’s “Tragic Kingdom” era to Stefani’s latest solo album. She even invited opener Eve on stage for a rendition of the twosome’s “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” which meant a lot to me as the 2001 hit was played at most of my high school dances.
The one misstep came during the encore. Stefani ended her arranged set with “Hollaback Girl,” which whipped the audience into an absolute frenzy – especially when the you-know-what was bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s. When the screams called her back, the band launched into a ballad with calming water backdrops. It killed the energy. Going straight to “Just a Girl” and “The Sweet Escape” would have been a better way to say goodbye.
It was still a terrific show. I am not a huge Gwen Stefani fan. I had never heard half of the songs she performed Saturday. But after such a gripping performance, there’s no doubt (come on, I had to) I won’t be able to resist the call when she visits Fresno again.