Please note: While today's column is based on actual conversations, names and circumstances have been changed to protect the innocent and punch up the dialogue.
The Players: Two 30-something female friends (M and L)
The Show: Gwen Stefani
The Venue: Stockton Arena
The Scene: Friends M and L enter the arena. Both carry notebooks. In the lobby, they see a sea of female fans ranging in age from 5 to 50.
L: Gee, what do you think Gwen's fan base is?
M: Well, at least we blend.
They find their seats as opener Sean Kingston performs. He stalks the stage with a microphone while a DJ spins in the background.
L: Who is this guy again?
M: He sings that "Beautiful Girls" song, I think. You know, the one that sounds like doo-wop with a bass beat.
L: This is like watching karaoke on a really big stage.
M: Or, as I like to call it, "American Idol."
Kingston finishes. Men dragged along by their wives or girlfriends hit the beer line.
M: You know what I like about Gwen? She is sexy without being skanky.
L: I know, she is in charge of her own image. It's refreshing.
M: Also, she's never flashed her lady parts. I love her.
Stefani takes the stage to an elaborate prison-escape production complete with a mock jail and dancing detectives. The high-pitched squealing from the crowd is ear-drum-splitting.
L: This is like watching a Broadway production.
The Harajuku Girls and break-dancing boys dance up a storm. Costume changes abound. And bounding abounds, as trampolines are built into the back of the stage.
Four songs later, Stefani stops to address the crowd, including fans dressed as bananas (though not L or M, who have some pride.)
GWEN: Anyone with a sign, I love you! Anyone with a L.A.M.B. (her fashion label) purse, I love you! Anyone dressed like a banana, come on! No. 1 on my list!
The music commences. Stefani runs from one end of the stage to the other in high heels and glittery hot pants.
M: How does she do it in those heels? And she is a mother of a 1-year-old. Crazy.
Gwen stops to chat again.
GWEN: I wasn't going to say anything, but we're filming this concert right now.
The crowd screams.
GWEN: We're filming the entire DVD for this tour here in Stockton tonight.
The crowd screams louder.
GWEN: But I'm a little grumpy, so I'm counting on you to change my mood a little.
The crowd, including M and L, sends mood-elevating screams her way. It seems to help.
Stefani sings song after song from both of her solo efforts, "Love. Angel. Music. Baby." and "The Sweet Escape." Then she comes to her breakout hit, "Hollaback Girl." (For the uninitiated, the fans' banana costumes are a nod to its lyrics: "This s--- is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.")
GWEN: Where all my Stockton girls at?!
Sonic mayhem ensues.
GWEN: Grumpy Gwen has left the building!
A few songs later, Stefani has changed into an ab-revealing outfit and sensible flat-heeled shoes. She runs into the audience around the entire perimeter of the arena. She even dives into the crowd.
M: Look at the fans; they don't know whether to grab her or grab their cameras.
L: I think that woman right behind her is in shock.
Back on stage, Stefani starts the last song of her set, "Orange County."
GWEN: Thanks for supporting me in this dance phase of my life.
After introducing her band and dancers, Gwen runs off stage, but the crowd can sense there's still more. She returns for an encore and talks emotionally about her son.
GWEN: I feel like I could cry, for many reasons. Kingston James McGregor Rossdale traveled around the world on this tour. ... This song goes out to the Kings.
She sings "Real Thing." It's lovely. Then she whips the crowd into one last frenzy with "What You Waiting For?"
And then it's over.
L: Well, that was fun. And you know what? She is one of the few pop stars who you could feel good about bringing a young daughter to see.
M: Or, you know, could go as a (age redacted)-year-old and not feel silly and out of place.