Friday night at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater--the first of No Doubt's four sold-out hometown shows and the beginning of the end of the band's reunion tour--I sat in my seat the Irvine venue not quite knowing what to expect from these aging locals.
After following youthful opening bands the Sounds and Paramore, whose respective members' combined ages barely equal 100, it was unclear if No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani could stand up to her predecessors' energy or vocal capabilities.
"She's got such a pure voice," I heard one audience member in my vicinity remark about Paramore vocalist Hayley Williams. "I wonder how Gwen will stand up."
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After two kids and five years away from the band as a solo pop superstar, the performance quality Stefani would bring was the question mark lingering in my mind as well. But once the curtain dropped to reveal No Doubt--dressed all in white before a vast white stage--any feelings of apprehension soon faded. Gwen's vocal quality didn't falter and the band's performance throughout their nearly two-hour-long set should have prompted the youngsters who appeared before them to take notes.
Stefani and her former love, band bassist Tony Kanal, played up their lost romance by igniting sparks palpable even to the lawn section. Irvine native, Tom Dumont (guitar) and drummer Adrian Young kept the audience entertained with their witty antics mostly expressed in Adrian's reliably insane wardrobe choice (he sported men's bikini briefs and argyle thigh-highs). And, as always, Stephen Bradley and Garbrial McNair helped to liven the mood as well with their well-played brass and keyboard skills.
Overall, the show was everything you'd expect from these local darlings return home: a packed house, immense crowd energy, and samplings from the band's nearly two decade-long song catalog performed with the zest of a band grateful for the success provided by their loyal hometown following.
It was proof to all present that No Doubt truly are masters of reinvention. They introduced the world to ska at a time when grunge was all the rage with the album that put them on the map, Tragic Kingdom. Then switched to a techno/club vibe with their album Return of Saturn, followed by a reggae inspired sound in their most recent album, late 2001's Rock Steady. It remains uncertain what the band will bring with the release of their newest project set to drop in 2010. But regardless of potential critical success, Friday's show made clear that Orange County fans will continue to display loyalty for this native success story.