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A 'Dutchess' with diva-next-door charm

SoCal's own Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas shines in a solo setting.

August 06, 2007|Mikael Wood | Special to The Times

It made sense that Fergie -- the Black Eyed Peas singer whose solo debut, "The Dutchess," has turned her into a star in her own right -- played Friday night at the Orange County Fair's Pacific Amphitheatre.

Not unlike the fair in relation to Orange County's name-brand kiddie destination Disneyland, Fergie exists as a sort of low-rent version of Gwen Stefani or Madonna, whose nimble, genre-jumping music "The Dutchess" openly emulates.

This is not a bad thing: Since joining the Peas in 2003, Fergie has become one of pop's most appealing personalities, thanks in large part to her uncommon relatability -- the way she seems a little goofier, a little older and a little more honest than pop stars are supposed to be.

In "Glamorous," one of several Top 40 hits from "The Dutchess," she insists that despite her frequent appearances on movie screens and in magazines, you can still expect to find her in the drive-through at Taco Bell; it's one of the few keeping-it-real claims that's easy to believe.

Fergie's 80-minute set emphasized her girl-next-door charm. In stark contrast with Stefani's current show, which bursts with eye-popping spectacle, the stage looked practically bare: a black-velvet curtain emblazoned with a giant F and a modest riser for her four-piece band. As a canned horn fanfare blared and a group of break dancers stoked the capacity crowd's excitement, Fergie sauntered onstage wearing a cape that her mom might have sewn 25 years ago as a Halloween costume.

No matter: The singer immediately filled the large outdoor space with infectious enthusiasm, running through "Here I Come," a "Dutchess" cut that liberally samples the Temptations' "Get Ready," and "London Bridge," a bumptious hip-hop track that the band improbably transformed into a crunching rap-rock rave-up.

Fergie has only one album to her name (and two as a member of the Black Eyed Peas), so she peppered the concert with lots of between-song banter, including a remembrance of many high school days spent in Orange County "lowriding with the cholos" and a mini-tirade against super-snarky Internet gossip maven Perez Hilton, to whom she dedicated "Pedestal." (It's the one that goes, "You hide behind computer screens so that you don't have to be seen / How could a person be so mean?")

Before a genuinely moving version of "Big Girls Don't Cry," her current self-help single, Fergie described the thrill she got when Ryan Seacrest, the "American Idol" host and KIIS-FM DJ, called her during his show to tell her she had the No. 1 record.

And when her microphone temporarily cut out during "Barracuda," her cover of the Heart classic from the "Shrek the Third" soundtrack, she refrained from throwing the diva-size fit you'd expect and instead did what all average folks would do: She headbanged while her band vamped on the tune's signature groove.

If there was a drawback to Fergie's aw-shucks accessibility, it was that the audience perhaps felt a little too comfortable with her. To wrap up the concert, she offered a stripped-down neo-soul take on "Finally," her album's piano-ballad closer, with only a keyboard for accompaniment.

Her vocals sounded terrific, but many in the crowd took the opportunity to beat the rush to the parking lot, leaving Fergie spilling her guts to a rapidly dwindling throng. Still, if her feathers were ruffled, she didn't let it show.

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