If you’re headed to Saturday’s Gwen Stefani concert at PNC Music Pavilion hoping for a surprise duet with her boyfriend Blake Shelton, we’ve got bad news: He’ll be 2,500 miles away that night, playing a sold-out show at the California Mid State Fair.
But if you’re hoping for the 46-year-old pop queen to pour her heart and soul into more than two dozen songs – from mid-’90s-era No Doubt cuts to brand-spanking-new tracks inspired by both the bitter end of her 13-year marriage to Gavin Rossdale and a hopeful new beginning with Shelton – you’ll be in the exact right place.
Stefani’s Charlotte show will mark her fifth since launching her first full-blown tour since 2009, this one in support of ultra-personal solo album “This Is What the Truth Feels Like.” (It’ll also be just her second show with her three sons in tow; that’d be Kingston, 10, Zuma, 7, and Apollo, 2.)
We caught up with the singer Monday morning, on an off day in Philadelphia.
Q. How’s it going?
A. I’m really good – you’re my last interview of the day.
Q. Oh, cool. Where are you headed after we hang up?
A. My kids actually get out here today, so I’m gonna go to the toy store and get it all exciting for them – and change my attitude, because I know that now I have to live in reality, that my boys are gonna be here. I’m so scared! I’m like, How am I gonna do all of this at one time? This is gonna be another level. But I think it’s gonna be super-fun, too.
Q. So how have the first few shows gone?
A. It’s been magic. Pure, unexpected magic. … I did some shows with No Doubt last summer – festivals that were in the middle of the hell of what was going on in my life – and it was intense. (But otherwise) I haven’t been on stage in seven years, really. So it’s just been so crazy going face to face with them, the people that have supported me all these years. It’s a weird thing to have the support of people that you don’t know. It’s hard to explain that feeling, but I feel them, and to be face to face and exchanging love … it feels good to do it again. It just feels right.
Q. Were you nervous, though, going into that first show, given how long it had been?
A. I wasn’t really nervous. I think the nerves really were (in the earliest planning stages), when I was like, “Oh my God, I gotta get this show together – like, I’m starting over. I gotta get dancers, I gotta get a band, I gotta learn all these songs … ” It’s so much work. Everything has to line up. It’s costumes, and the order of the set, and the balance of the set – it’s a huge, huge undertaking. I’ve done that before, but not with three boys. So it was like, “How am I gonna do this?” And what was really crazy is – because of my boys’ schedule – they had me do all the rehearsals, then go on a two-week vacation. I was like, “Wait, I’m gonna forget everything! I’m gonna be off on vacation, I’m gonna come back, and my costumes aren’t gonna fit!” But it all worked out, and I just kinda feel like everything’s happening as it should, and that there’s a plan for me. I’m really open to that, spiritually. So no, I don’t have nerves, I just have excitement.
Q. OK, who the heck is this vacation planner of yours?
A. I know, right? But it was just the way that it worked out, with schedules. It was a little stressful at the end, when I was like, “Should I really be eating this cheese dip right now?” … In the past, before tours, I would bring a trainer out, and get myself ready, and run, and sing – and I had none of that. I literally plopped myself on stage and was like, “Here we go!” But this is supposed to be happening in this way. And even though I feel like I was run over by a truck this morning, because my body’s so sore, it feels awesome. I had the most incredible show last night.
Q. What are you sore from, the dancing?
A. It’s this crazy thing that I love, called adrenaline. When that kicks in, you think you’re superhuman – then you feel it the next day. But it will go away. It’s just ’cause I’ve only done four shows. … Being on tour’s fun, ’cause it’s like being an athlete. You get to work out at the venue; we were doing like all this running up and down the stairs, and then the show on top of it. I’m feeling (sore from all) that today.
Q. So do you come away from that first show going, “We nailed it”? Or, I wonder, since you were such a good judge on “The Voice,” are you a tough critic on yourself, too?
A. Well, obviously I can’t see it, ’cause I’m in it, but for me I think this is not so much about people seeing something, but actually feeling something. I just want people to feel my story. I want them to feel my gratitude and my truth. Did I walk away from the first show feeling like that happened? For sure – on a level that I never expected. And it keeps getting better. Now, I’m sure there’s gonna be one that’s gonna be more disappointing, but so far I’ve only done four. I still have a lot to go. … Anything can happen. I came up on stage and my fly was down (after one of the) costume changes – I realized that I didn’t zip my pants up. But that’s what’s so fun about live shows. Nothing’s permanent. You can have a structure, but it’s really about just being in the moment.
Q. What was your strategy when it came to designing the set list?
A. I just wanted to get a real nice balance of who I am. “What have I done? What represents me, right now, my journey, from the very beginning?” I just felt like people needed to hear that. And I needed to relive it, (through) those songs. … I tried to pick the ones that emotionally were healing for me, but for the most part, I’m just trying to do whatever I think people are gonna enjoy. It’s not really about me, it’s more about them.
Q. How nostalgic do you get when you think back to your early days with No Doubt?
A. When I think back to that time, I just think, “God, how did that happen?” We were so young, and I was so naive. I was living with my parents till I was 26. … I mean, I’m so grateful for that whole chapter: the nine years before we had any commercial success, and then the crazy worldwide success we had, where we got to be able to travel and (see that) our music transcends any kind of culture around the world. But I don’t wanna go back to that time. I feel like I did that, and it was incredible, but I’m really happy to keep moving forward. Now it’s all about my boys and being a mom, and I’m so blessed to be able to have my career as well. It’s hard to do both, but it’s so rewarding to be able to be creative and then share that and actually have people pay attention. I never expected it. …
Because this new record, I made it because I didn’t wanna die, and it was the only thing I could think of to try to have any self-worth. Like, “How could I feel good about myself again?”
And now I’m at this point where I can look back at all of those different phases and think, “Wow, I bounced around in all these different kind of versions of me.” That’s kind of what the show is like. All songs, from all periods of my life, that I’ve written. … It’s like, “Here’s what I’ve done so far, and I’m gonna share that with you because I want you guys to have that – because you’ve given me so much.” It’s just an exchange of love; that’s all it is, quite simple. And it’s super-healing for me. So healing. … I’m so proud of getting to this place. I never thought I would be here.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: PNC Music Pavilion, 707 Pavilion Blvd.
Details: 704-549-5555; www.livenation.com.