Gwen Stefani’s “This Is What the Truth Feels Like” tour was already under a cloud before it even started, with reports of semi-disastrously low ticket sales trickling in from more than a few cities on the schedule. What the singer didn’t need, then, was a substantial technical glitch mucking up the very first song of the very first show, inching a run that’s supposed to be her feisty declaration of post-divorce independence toward “cursed” territory.
Yet there Stefani was at Xfinity Center on Tuesday, kicking off the show by singing the first few lines of “Red Flag” into a microphone that refused to pick up her voice at all.
It wouldn’t have been more than an awkward hiccup if it were just a one-off, but it seemed as though whoever was running the mix had no idea what to do with Stefani in the first place. For much of the show, her voice was largely muted — which given her piercing kewpie-doll warble was either fantastic negligence or calculated malice.
She wasn’t the only one who suffered at the hands of an indifferent sound tech. Her band sounded muddy — an impressive feat as there were only four players to balance. The guitar in “Make Me Like You” could have been a hard, glossy chank, but was mixed so low that it sat there limp, and the bass was practically a nonentity in a song that cried out for a clear bottom end. During “Rich Girl” you could hear both instruments fighting hard to cut through the murk, but falling just short.
Whether rattled by the persistently problematic sound or simply following the prescribed tour script, Stefani delivered a performance that was animated but hollow. She was selling the songs when she should have inhabited them, too busy emoting to genuinely convey any of the vulnerability in “Rare” or “Used to Love You.” Nor were more straightforward uptempo jams immune from coming across as forced; the pogo bounce of her No Doubt party anthems “Hella Good” and “Just a Girl” had energy but no drive.
A handful of late-breaking songs seemed to have worked out the kinks — or maybe they were just kink-proof. The trumpet and trombone sounded so good (and clear) on “Hollaback Girl” that it was hard not to wish Stefani had incorporated them throughout. Opening act Eve brought a casual, matter-of-fact confidence to her guest spots on “Rich Girl” and “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” and Stefani was finally able to throw off some genuine sass of her own with the tightly explosive “Naughty.”
But it wasn’t until the very last song, when “The Sweet Escape” swung and kicked amid delirious “woo-hoo“s, that Stefani reached the level she should have hit all night. She got there at long last, and then the show was over.
With Eve. At Xfinity Center, Mansfield, July 12Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.