"This is my home," Beth Ditto swooned before the sold-out crowd at Hawthorne Theater on July 24. "I love you so much."

Unseen 'round local stages since 2011, tonight was a homecoming for our wandering frontwoman—joyous, though rather less raucous than expected. Founding Gossip drummer Kathy Mendonca, evidently in attendance, was given a loving shoutout, but the absence of anything resembling her former group's dynamic hung heavy throughout the evening.

Weirdly, much of new album Fake Sugar fell flat when heard live. Despite a chorus pleading, "Let's get the rhythm of the head/Let's get the rhythm of the feet," recent single "Oo La La" failed to budge the dance floor. Comparisons to the old hits are as unfair as they are inevitable, but set against the solo debut's oft-antiseptic glam, "Standing In The Way Of Control" seemed a different beast entirely—rawer, primal and notably lacking the give-and-take once enjoyed between the singer and her old Gossip-mates.

There were hints of a diva turn well before current band members lined up on each side of La Ditto for a group bow like so many back-up dancers. But, to her credit, she wears the tiara flawlessly. Despite an oppressive heat within the packed club, her energy only seemed to rise as the night went on, punctuating the vocal pyrotechnics of closer "Heavy Cross" with a bout of frankly gymnastic pogos. Just maybe, the true superstar needn't use a guitarist for stagecraft frisson when the audience itself aches to play willing foil.

"I promise not to stay away for six more years," she told the adoring crowd, traces of a grin brightening the drawl. "But, really, who knows."

All photos by Thomas Teal.