The band had seasoned their bright FM pop with just enough reggae to make it seem mildly exotic. It won them the world, then they retreated at the height of their fame. Their comeback roadshow dispensed with the usual, dreary half-dozen new songs (they hadn’t written any), instead having their gorgeous blond singer – now a fully formed solo star – cut straight to the old favorites.
No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani meanwhile, is many things: SoCal punk grrrl turned club diva. Fashionista. Mother of two; still the owner of a superheroic, oft-exposed six-pack. Actress. (Well, she was in The Aviator, anyway.)
But bored? Didn’t look like it at Nissan last night. Boring? Not. A. Chance.
“Get your hands up in the air!” she commanded, sounding more like the leader of a bank-heist crew than a 39-year-old pop star reconnecting with some old friends.
We hear and obey, all 21,500 of us.
The Orange Country hitmakers are all their late 30s now — except for guitarist Tom Dumont, at 41 – but the summer’s biggest comeback tour has youth very much on its mind. The band showed up for their aerobic 95-minute set sporting white-and-black couture seemingly modeled after the duds worn by the sociopathic narrator Alex and his gang of adolescent “droogs” in A Clockwork Orange.*
There was plenty else to viddy: The stage resembled a white plastic crab, or the LAX control tower as reimagined by Steve Jobs.** Kicking off with the ska-punk confection “Spiderwebs,” the first dozen songs purred along real horrorshow, each accompanied by a video. Some, like the ‘60s spy parody for “Ex-Girlfriend,” or the nostalgic montage of home movies from the band’s salad days that accompanied “Running,” were more diverting than the flesh-and-blood performances happening in front of them.
So it was a almost a relief when the big telly finally went dark, allowing the band to rock the megahits “Don’t Speak” and “Just a Girl” minus their virtual doppelgangers.
Mind you, Stefani & Co. are not easily upstaged. The gig was as free of tedium as it was of spontaneity; calculated, but a good entertainment value. Touring for the first time in half a decade, and absent a new album to push, No Doubt sweetened the deal by offering a free download of their complete discography with tickets at the $42.50 price point or above.
The show didn’t go anywhere near that deep: 14 of the 19 songs performed are on the band’s Singles 1992-2003 compilation. But one, a cover of Adam & The Ants’ “Stand and Deliver,” was exclusive to the download. Openers Paramore and The Sounds joined the headliners to bang it out during the encore; the night’s sloppiest performance, and one of its best.
There were a few other serendipitious moments. When one lucky comer caught Stefani’s eye with an arrow-shaped sign reading simply “Hug,” she said, “Come and get it!” Embracing him as promised, she then put her mike down to take a snapshot of the two of them with the audience in the background.
It was a sweet, if theatrical gesture, the pop diva allowing a charming mortal to touch the hem of her garmet. A night to remember for him, No Doubt. And at least for a little while, for us, too.
*Percussionist Adrian Young was more The Road Warrior, wearing only white briefs, checker-print thigh-high stockings, and black lip gloss and eyeliner. There were way too many closeups of his, ah, high hat.
**Or a much smaller version of the massive stage for U2’s imminent stadium tour that’s being built in Spain right now. I saw No Doubt open for U2 in Los Angeles on the Elevation Tour in 2001. ND bassist Tony Kanal performed in a T-shirt from U2’s 1983 War tour, which I thought was cool.
I’m not posting the setlist, because it appears to be the same at every gig this tour.