Holy Mother of Houndstooth!
Maybe you’ve heard the legends about No Doubt being one of the greatest live bands of all time. Maybe you completely disregarded them, like this reviewer had. I mean, this is No Doubt we’re talking about: the band that gave women permission to wear bindis and dudes permission to frost their hair – which, I assure you, is totally not okay. Maybe you’re aware that they sort of evolved, and kept on having anomalous hits, no matter what sort of pop schlock was popular that year. Forty thousand people, spread across a seven night stand at the Gibson Ampitheatre, already knew what you and I did not: the legends are fucking true.
Their grand finale this past Thursday was the kind of large-scale pop show that every band should aspire to. Yes, there was a giant video screen, a light show, and a costume change for Ms. Stefani (who, it must be said, is jaw-droppingly beautiful in person). But contrary to almost every band touring at this level, their production elements were barely even the icing on the cake. Sprinkles, maybe. All eyes were on the performance – the MASTERFUL performance – that No Doubt delivered, which was non-stop, balls-out and positively thrilling.
As the band kicked off with the title track from their latest release, “Push and Shove,” the audience surged forward and the party began. What followed was something of a hit parade, made possible by No Doubt’s impressive career in the mainstream. The opening strains of each song were met with gutteral screams from ecstatic grown-ups and teenagers alike. Through “Hella Good,” “Ex-Girlfriend,” “Hey Baby,” and more, Tom, Tony and Gwen ran laps around the stage – leaping, dancing and grooving to the total delight of their devotees. After Stefani pulled a few fans onstage for photos, things slowed down just a smidge for a semi-acoustic set, which included “Hey You,” and “Simple Kind of Life” – a song which, recorded, lays it on a little thick, but in this context felt chock full of wistful sincerity.
Through upbeat and mellow moments alike, the dynamic between band and audience was one of mutual admiration and total gratitude. Gwen thanked the crowd profusely throughout the night – for showing up, for singing along, and for loving her and the boys so deeply after all this time. There were several long breaks in the set where Gwen scanned the pit for signs to read and fans to bring up for hugs. In contrast to the manic energy of the Mother-to-Little Monster relationship, ND’s synergy with their fans felt respectful – no shmaltzy symbiosis here.
One of the highest highlights of the evening was “Sunday Morning,” which began with an acapella breakdown by Gwen, and the spectacular multi-instrumentalists Gabriel McNair and Stephen Bradley. The bright, cheeky tune brought the room’s energy up to eleven, just in time to drive through another series of hits, including “Bathwater,” “Don’t Speak,” and “Just A Girl,” which featured a mid-song, boys vs. girls scream-off that probably shattered eardrums for miles around. Before the epic set wound to a close, the audience was treated to a piece of “Excuse Me Mr.” (requested via pit-sign), as well as a full performance of the old-old-old school piece “Total Hate,” which had Stefani pullin’ out all the vocal stops from their original recipe ska/punk/reggae sound. The evening concluded with “Spiderwebs,” which included a mid-song dip into the audience by Stefani, to shake hands and admire the handiwork of their “stalkers.” She sang the cooing, creepy bridge out there, held up by the hands of those that loved her, before the whole band ripped into the final chorus with the force of a sunny tsunami.
It was a triumphant and totally unforgettable night, led by one of the best-looking, best damn bands of the past twenty years. Color me surprised, and totally converted – I’ve had a sip of the No Doubt Kool-Aid and there is no going back.