Thanks 4 Nothin', Dad :( 

Gwen Stefani: a bionic Marilyn Monroe whose voice is made distinguishable from Olive Oyl's by millions in high-end studio gear.

I have genuine concern for anyone who would don a full-body banana suit and traipse around in public, but the two banana-suited gentleman at the Gwen Stefani show Thursday night troubled me particularly. I fear a cataclysmic rift has formed, both between the two of them, and within their own individual twisted psyches. Everything alright, boys? Are you still friends? Why did only one of you make it onstage?

They had a fantastic racket going, the Banana Boys, tottering around Oakland Arena and soaking in the cooing attention of myriad Nubile Young Ladies (aged roughly fifteen to thirty, excluding moms). "That's hot," one teenage passerby purred, unironically.

As Dick Vitale might put it during a fast break, "They got numbers!" Let's allow a superior thinker (Katy St. Clair, perhaps?) to whip up the female equivalent to "sausage party" to describe the scene. But put it this way: no lines for the men's restroom, even if a sudden bout of amoebic dysentery had struck everyone present. This must be like shopping at Berkeley Bowl an hour before it officially opens.

Brilliant scheme, Banana Boys. And ninety minutes after the lights went down, as Gwen's absurdly extravagant cavalcade of garish costume changes and schlock-pop climaxed, as it must, with "Hollaback Girl," she pulled a bunch of spastically jerking front-row screamers onstage for an impromptu dance party, while shouting "Bring up the bananas!"

a) Funniest thing Gwen said all night, no contest.

b) Only one made it. The other banana looked hesitant and dejected, and trudged slowly away from the stage as his buddy Lived the Dream. Show ended, house lights went up, and both bananas were swallowed in the gleefully fleeing crowd.

This whiff of melodrama impaired my enjoyment of "Hollaback Girl," but I can live with that, seeing as "Hollaback Girl" is the second-dumbest radio smash hit of 2005. ("My Humps," people.) But only the dumbest fun imaginable is suitable for the climax of a Gwen Stefani show. Whether somehow transcending ska-punk corn with No Doubt or fetishizing Egyptian cotton sheets (and Dr. Dre) with her '04 solo debut, Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Ms. Stefani's persona is more cartoonish than Yosemite Sam's.

She's basically a bionic Marilyn Monroe: impossibly blonde, impossibly leggy. As for her voice, the only thing separating her from Olive Oyl is millions of dollars in high-end studio equipment. But that doesn't particularly matter if you can Bring the Rock Spectacle. Gwen hasn't quite ascended to stratospheric Cher heights of glorious stadium excess, but no one at Oakland Arena was requesting "If I Could Turn Back Time," either.

For a while there, everyone was too busy sending text messages, which were displayed on a giant screen while everyone waited for Gwen to come out, and provided a venue for people named Ali, Uno, Kelli, Lanie, Fabian, Bubba, Durty Dee, Nelli Belli, T-Bone, and Bacon to profess their love for each other. At least eight marriage proposals, too. "Scream if you love Gwen!" was a popular (and obeyed) sentiment, but more offbeat pronouncements included the pleasingly phrased "Gwen rock and this good times" and the highly appropriate "Thanks Dad :)."

Cell phones figured prominently into opener MIA's set as well -- the critic-beloved agit-dance-punk diva demanded everyone light 'em up during "Amazon," so she could feel like she was in the jungle. Her set had sort of a scrappy neighborhood kid's Let's Put on an Arena Rock Opening Act! vibe. She basically acts the way you'd act if forced to appear onstage in front of thousands of people: awkward, wobbly, childlike, and (hopefully) endearing. She got the ol' "no one cheers until she announces it's her last song" treatment. Too bad.

A Totally Gwen crowd, I guess. To describe her set in terms of the songs themselves seems beside the point -- they're okay, mostly, melding Cars-worthy new wave to the best hip-hop cred money can buy, provided by the Neptunes, Andre 3000, etc. (No special guests live, alas.) The rousing jazzercise throwback "What You Waiting For" brought the rock far more convincingly than Mötley Crüe did earlier this year. But no, this one's all about the costume changes: Fire Alarm at the Ren Faire, '50s Beachfront Starlet, Cinemax Softcore Porn Nutcracker, Haughty Pantless Majorette, B-Girl Zebra. Her every move was shadowed by four Harajuku Girls, a strain of strutting fashionista Japanese divas whose style and mystique Stefani has fully co-opted. (It's frankly shocking that she beat Quentin Tarantino to the punch in exploiting this concept.) Four breakdancers and a decent faux-Prince backing band gave the show weight, but the star still carried it all herself, whether selling the cheeseball homecoming ballad "Cool" or giggling through "Bubble Pop Electric," a touching ode to losing one's virginity at a drive-in.

Oy. What with all the gussied-up hooker outfits, preening clotheshorse overmaterialism, and giggly slumber-party sex talk, the winsome dumb fun of Gwen's hoedown was ultimately overpowered by a sudden, fervent hope that my children, should I ever sire any, are all boys. Lord forbid a budding Harajuku Girl ever text "Thanks Dad :)" to me. Stay away from strange men in banana suits, honey.

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