Woo! The tour is getting such great reviews, and Orange County Register was no exception. They thought the show last night in Chula Vista was “it’s best show ever.” The author does happen to have a love/hate relationship with the band, who was noted for getting kicked out of Gwen’s show for dissing the band/her before in the past, but purchased a ticket himself at the venue, which ended up being sold out with over 19,000 fans present! Woah! The author stated he’s been following the band around for over a decade, and this was their best performance yet! They are so tight and the stage was so fierce! We couldn’t agree more!
Thursday night, 24 hours before No Doubt would play only its third proper show since launching its first tour in five years, I finally found out after weeks of asking that I would indeed have a ticket to review the bandâ€™s first Southern California stop, at Cricket Wireless Amphitheater in Chula Vista.
Thanks to the good people at Atlantic Records, that is, who are eager to see their ND-influenced band Paramore get plenty of attention on this ginormous outing, certainly one of the hottest tickets of summer.
The next day, however, 30 minutes before I was about to hop on I-5 and lurch along in stop-and-go traffic for four hours, I learned in a polite e-mail that said ticket had been taken away.
Donâ€™t ask me why, I couldnâ€™t tell you â€“- though it probably still has something to do with this not-exactly-pleasant column from two years ago, or this behind-the-scenes follow-up. To say the Register has had a love/hate relationship with the most popular band to ever emerge from Orange County is putting it mildly.
I ruffled feathers by loathing their Tragic Kingdom homecoming in â€™97 at the Pond -â€“ but I remain a big fan of Return of Saturn and absolutely loved Rock Steady and the tour that ensued in â€™01-â€™02. I got a sticky-sweet rush out of Gwen Stefaniâ€™s first solo pop confection -â€“ but I despised her reunion-delaying second disc and its wide-eyed autobiographical centerpiece â€œOrange County Girl.â€ I thought she was convincingly Madonna-esque in her Hollywood Bowl debut in â€˜05 â€” and I thought she was utterly delightful at Verizon in summer â€™07 when she wrapped her solo touring (for now) and briefly reteamed with Tom, Tony and Adrian during encores.
I like to think I approach her/them fairly, digesting each new move as its own feast and then judging -â€“ just like any other critic would. Iâ€™d also like to think any bad blood would be water under the bridge at this point.
But now Iâ€™m left wondering just who it is in the No Doubt camp â€“- their label, their management, Gwen and the guys themselves â€“- that didnâ€™t want me to trek down to San Diego to see what a terrifically impressive performance they gave Friday night before 19,000 shrieking, ecstatic fans.
Iâ€™d hope you (and they) would know my rants and raves well enough to realize Iâ€™d never kiss their derrieres just to get in their good graces. Honestly, after this last-minute lock-out, which left me driving to nowhere wondering if Iâ€™d get in â€¦ well, that can leave even the most balanced scribe eager to tear his subject apart.
Not that I had the slightest trouble once I arrived in Chula. Pulled into VIP parking for $20, closest to the venue just in case Iâ€™d only be able to hear what went on, then I strolled toward the box office and instantly scored a pit ticket for $86, a mere $12 over face value. Iâ€™d probably have paid more in Ticketmaster fees if I had purchased it the proper way.
As Paramore ripped into the third or fourth song of its aggressive yet tentative set â€“- so soon into the tour, theyâ€™re still a tad overwhelmed by the enormity of it all â€” I waltzed right up to a curiously unpacked pit and secured a spot left-of-center along the barrier. I wouldnâ€™t have been this close if No Doubtâ€™s publicist had comped me. (Forgive the sameness of my pics â€¦ Iâ€™m no photographer.)
Given all this prologue, believe me when I make this bold statement: Fridayâ€™s 19-song, roughly 90-minute set was so strong, in fact â€“- so crisply conceived and sharply executed, with one eye cast toward modern pop dazzle, the other toward traditionalism â€“- that I havenâ€™t the slightest reservation in declaring this the best show Iâ€™ve ever seen No Doubt give in more than a decade of following the group.
â€œWeâ€™re just trying to get inspired,â€ Gwen said between â€œHey Babyâ€ and â€œDifferent Peopleâ€ midway into the set, reiterating the reason they opted not to hunker down in a studio all year to record a long-overdue follow-up to Rock Steady, but rather got back out on the road to re-energize themselves and see what their chemistry could yield as they enter their 40s. (Tom Dumontâ€™s already there, at 41; Gwen and Adrian Young hit the big four-oh in October and August, respectively; and Tony Kanalâ€™s only a year behind.)
They neednâ€™t have worried about seeming rusty, however â€“- Iâ€™ve never heard them sound so rich and full and precise. Whatâ€™s more, theyâ€™re already busy revamping and remixing. â€œExcuse Me Mr.â€ is now much snakier, subtly skanking across funky â€™60s-soul horn blats. The soothing â€œUnderneath It Allâ€ has been updated as well: its lulling reggae lilt now shifts to a wicked Jamaican proto-ska groove dappled with Caribbean flavors, so expertly executed it would make the Aggrolites jealous.
But itâ€™s the stark, striking look of the show itself that really grabbed me.
With the entire thing played out in a black-and-white (mostly white) motif â€“- the only color comes from videos on a giant screen behind them, like the spy-noir go-go fun of â€œEx-Girlfriendâ€ or the then-to-now evolution footage aired during â€œRunningâ€ â€“- No Doubt has crafted a bright dazzler that superbly evokes the traditionalism theyâ€™ll never leave behind while elevating the groupâ€™s ska-rock aesthetic to a high level of class, with kudos due Gwenâ€™s 2Tone-goes-L.A.M.B. attire. (Her entrance clothes, white pants and a tight-fitting white coat hiding a white wife beater, was standard Stefani gear. But her second outfit, a checkered and sequined harlequin get-up in short-shorts and black tights, made her look like the hottest diva the Selecter never had.)
Madness and the Specials and the English Beat would be proud to see the impeccable joy theyâ€™ve wrought â€“- and No Doubt itself should be applauded for so unabashedly returning to their roots and refreshing them with a decade of experience, wisdom and chops development. (â€œThis song means so much more these days,â€ Gwen said of â€œA Simple Kind of Life.â€ You can tell how deeply heartfelt its achinâ€™-to-be lyrics are now that she has little Kingston and Zuma.)
Hit after hit after sharply delivered hit â€“- from a menacing â€œHella Goodâ€ to a jaunty â€œBathwaterâ€ to ripping renditions of â€œSunday Morningâ€ and â€œNewâ€ and a beautifully belted â€œDonâ€™t Speak,â€ with Gwenâ€™s face in close-up the whole time on the video screen -â€“ all suggested No Doubt is more than ready to move forward. Theyâ€™ve never played so effortlessly, yet theyâ€™re hardly coasting; when Gwen fearlessly raced up to the lawn to get up and close with fans during â€œJust a Girl,â€ I could tell just how hard theyâ€™re trying to reconnect.
So soon into a comeback tour, and theyâ€™re already at the top of their game. â€œFeels good, yeah?â€ Gwen asked pretty early on, after one of the few non-smashes in the set list, â€œEnd It on This.â€
She said it again, almost purring with happiness: â€œFeels gooooood.â€
It does indeed, Gwen. Welcome back.
(No Doubt, with Paramore and the Sounds, returns to play July 22, 27-28 at Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk â€¦ July 31-Aug. 2 and Aug. 4 at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, with Katy Perry joining on the last date â€¦ Aug. 5 at Santa Barbara Bowl â€¦ and a return to Cricket Wireless Amphitheater on Aug. 8.)
No Doubt at Cricket Wireless Amphitheater, Chula Vista, May 22, 2009
Main set: Spiderwebs / Hella Good / Underneath It All / Excuse Me Mr. / Ex-Girlfriend / End It on This / A Simple Kind of Life / Bathwater / New / Hey Baby / Running / Different People / Donâ€™t Speak / Itâ€™s My Life / Just a Girl
Encore: Rock Steady / Stand and Deliver / Sunday Morning