By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Saturday, Aug. 5
This sold-out bill was fairly mega: No Doubt and Lit, a pair of the biggest-selling bands ever to emerge from OC (two bands that, as Lit's A.Jay Popoff noted, started as garage bands in Anaheim). In that sense, it's hard to be too critical of two bands who have "made it" (commercially, at least), especially since we have long memories of all those years when OC bands went ignored by the dreaded music industry. But now that they are both reasonably successful, the question to ask now is: How long can they make it last? No Doubt and Lit can put out, but will they still be able to get it up a few years from now? Will they wind up as pop kitsch, as embarrassing an exercise in nostalgia as the B-52's/Go-Go's/ Psychedelic Furs bill that played this same stage just 24 hours earlier? Or—worse—will they end up like the Who, whose current shows are apparently selling so poorly that promoters have resorted to billing them as "greatest hits" sets?
Signs of artistic staying power—this was our Grand Quest. Found it with No Doubt. With Lit? Well, we'll have to search a bit longer.
Lit's set reminded us of a bad metal band, the kind of pandering, pompous drivel you thought Nirvana had expunged from the Earth forever back in '91. Though they certainly have a lot of onstage charisma (see A.Jay perform groin-muscle-defying leg kicks! See A.Jay spit water high into the air!), they indulged in one tired, hackneyed, eye-rolling rock cliché after another without a shred of irony. And just when we were actually starting to enjoy them a bit, they'd turn around and give us a reason to hate them. A genuinely strong take on "Zip-Lock"? Obliterated by A.Jay's call for the crowd to raise their lit cigarette lighters high into the air, and people actually complied! A.Jay's pronouncement that "this is Irvine Meadows; it ain't no fuckin' Verizon Wireless!"—a sentiment with which we're totally, totally down? Wiped out by the moment when he stepped to the side of the stage and told us he was "gonna leave for a shot of Jaegermeister," an insidious bit of product-placement since Jaegermeister is one of Lit's big corporate sponsors—we hope he at least made some extra dough from that plug (we half-expected him to tell us he was leaving again to go call 1-800-COLLECT). Other cringe-worthy moments included A.Jay's look-at-me! audience run-through (superyawn), the inevitable smashed-guitar exclamation point at the end of their set (how quaint!), and the point where A.Jay chastised parts of the crowd for not being sufficiently moved enough by his band's exquisite artistry to get up out of their seats. Hey, they were just voting with their asses—Lit made them come! Lit made them complete! Lit made them completely miserable!
No Doubt at this point are smart enough to avoid those simple arena-rock clichés (though there was Gwen Stefani's guaranteed-scream-generating girls-against-boys call-out, which transformed her into a sort of pink-haired Tony Robbins). Their set was typically solid and strong—their high-energy live shows have always been their strongest suit, going back to 1987, and this was that: a sweaty, muscle-pumping, heart-throbbing good time (even the ballads felt buffed-up). It also helps No Doubt's case that the tracks they played off Return of Saturn are pretty good, with interesting lyrics about deep human emotions —particularly "Simple Kind of Life," easily Saturn's best tune, a Stefani-penned yearning for seemingly unattainable domestic bliss (after songs this strong, it's pretty much impossible to revert back to I-love-you-baby ska-pop—a very good thing, indeed).
Still, there remains this annoying novelty aspect about them, like maybe they really are the rehashed teeny-bopper new-wave band you desperately don't want them to be. It was hard to avoid the piercingly painful shrieks from all those high school girls in the crowd who you know would rip those Gwen posters from their bedroom walls as soon as another strong female role model entered their lives (and how about those two young girls who walked around the amphitheater adorned in full wedding dresses, just like Gwen in the "Simple Kind of Life" video?). Like the Beatles in the time between Help! and Rubber Soul, the band seems right on the border now between teen-idoldom and serious artistry, with tunes like "Simple Kind of Life" pointing to more mature, creative and longer-lasting output ahead. But that's a direction that won't truly cement itself (you hope) until their next album—whenever that'll be.
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