Concert Review: Gwen Stefani and Ciara, Mohegan Sun Arena

In the midst of ringing slot machines, spinning roulette wheels, and sulking gamblers, teenyboppers from age 6 to 60 packed into the Mohegan Sun Arena for the “Harajuku Lovers Tour” starring Gwen Stefani and featuring Ciara as the opening act.

With a minimal stage setup of only a DJ booth and a set of stairs leading up to narrow raised platform, Ciara relied on her star power, radio hits and infectious gyrations to carry her 35-minute show. The sexy, wavy-coiffed singer opened the show with her lead-off single, “Goodies”, getting the crowd to shake their own goodies in the aisles. Accompanied by DJ and hype-man extraordinaire, Fat Man Scoop, she belted through “Lookin’ At You” and “Hotline” with strong vocals and her sharp, jolting body movements. She also maintained a sultry, sensual vibe crooning her slow joints, “Oh Baby”, “And I”, “Thug Style” and even “Like You”, the hit duet with boyfriend Bow Wow.

As her show continued, it became more evident that Ciara is truly the next incarnation of Aaliyah. Although they’ve been compared before; the long swinging hair, triangle bikini top/cargo pant combo, and staccato dance movements were eerily too similar. Additionally, you can easily see the King of Pop’s influence in her style and choreography, particularly during songs such as “Hotline”. However, Ciara held down the vocals considering her dance-heavy set.

After a costume change into another sparkly midriff-baring bikini top ensemble, she set off a rock-infused version of “Oh” backed up by four lackluster lady dancers. Though her background dancers showed respectable stamina, they couldn’t match Ciara’s forceful movements and bouncy energy; and they often forgot the steps, sharpening the contrast. Ciara showed off her acrobatic prowess as she hoisted herself up the stairs while popping the booty in mid-air to the heavy bass. An energetic rendition of “One, Two Step” closed out her show which seemed to abruptly end.

Though entertaining, the show relied too heavily on Ciara’s signature dance style and lacked substance. She has undeniable dance skills and a sweet, pretty voice, but could improve as a performer by working all sides of stage and incorporating more visuals and themes into her stage show. With time, growth and a little creativity, she has the potential to create extravaganzas like Janet Jackson’s “Velvet Rope” tour.

After a long 45-minute intermission, four cute, sexy little Japanese “Harajuku” girls appeared as the Queen of the Ball, Gwen Stefani, literally emerged in a tiara and on a throne, opening her show with “Harajuku Girls”. The energy and precision of the dancing Harajuku girls gave the moderately up-tempo dance ditty the momentum of a Hip-Hop club banger. Mrs. Stefani then sauntered through “What You Waiting For?” in her 4-inch heels and slowed things down with “The Real Thing” and Isley Brothers’ sampled “Luxurious.”

“Crash” brought the energy back up as Stefani and her Harajuku girls came out in motocross jumpsuits and Tupac-style bandanas, accompanied by four B-boys. Once back in sneakers, Stefani’s inner-rocker girl returned as she leapt on top of the speakers and jumped across the stage hyping up the audience. She even led a proper call and response session; with the small contingency of men shouting, “Back it up! Back it up!” and the ladies responding, “You got it! You got it!”

After “Rich Girl”, sans Eve, and “Danger Zone”, Stefani introduced her song about interracial love and colorblindness, “Long Way To Go”, a duet with Outkast’s Andre 3000. Though he wasn’t there to join her; her solo rendition translated well with the help of the Harajuku girls and B-boys; and with sensual black and white photographs of interracial couples flashing on the screens above the stage.

Stefani previewed a couple of new tracks, “Wind It Up” and “Orange County Girl”, which featured a slideshow of her childhood photos back in the O.C. The crowd lost some momentum, but she quickly regained the audience with “Cool”, shining vocally and aesthetically in a silver sequined tank dress.

The Harajuku girls kicked off “Serious” dressed as sexy nurses tending to their patient, Stefani, laid out on a stretcher. One for crowd participation, Stefani enlisted the help of the audience to sing along “S-E-R-I-O-U-S” and introduced her band and dancers, particularly highlighting her Harajuku girls; Love, Angel, Music and Baby named after her album and clothing line. The power of the Harajuku girls’ chemistry, energy, style and sassiness gave life to the album’s tracks, often diverting attention from Stefani’s main event. They successfully made fans out of all of us.

After a cutesy finale of another joint track with Andre 3000, “Bubble Pop Electric”, complete with floating bubbles, Stefani quickly re-emerged for her encore, “Hollaback Girl”. This mega hit perfectly ended the show, as she pulled 30 enthusiastic spectators, mostly girls under the age of 16, on stage to join her for the final chorus. As she’s done in the past with her No Doubt cohorts, Stefani commanded the crowd and delivered a solidly entertaining show.