Last Night: No Doubt, Katy Perry, the Sounds at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Irvine; August 4, 2009.
Better than: The three previous No Doubt shows at Verizon. Maybe. Actually, they were probably all equally fantastic, unless you hate Katy Perry.
Number of dudes dressed up in Alice in Wonderland-esque garb like Gwen Stefani in the "What You Waiting For" video: Only spotted one. Which was plenty.
Do you enjoy...joy? Well, you'd probably have had a swell time at the No Doubt concert Tuesday night. Any fan you could spot were either shrieking in ecstasy, squealing with delight or gleefully laughing, and each member of each act performing seemed to be having just as good of a time.
And why not? Essentially No Doubt's victory lap for a successful tour that started in May, it was a chance for Orange County fans to once again soak in a nearly exhaustive set list of ND's most beloved singles live for the first time since 2004, and a chance for the band to play the role of "quintessential local boy(s and girl) done good." (Certainly, selling out four consecutive shows at a 16,000 capacity venue must quality as "done good," right?)
The cliched statements are obvious to anyone that saw one of the shows, but still worth noting: watching No Doubt in action, it feels like a seamless transition from where they were to where they are, despite the half-decade layoff. Sure, having played about 50 shows this tour before settling in to Irvine has something to do with it, but it's also a testament to the band's ability and their long, shared history. Despite being massively successful as a pop superstar working with the likes of Akon and Andre 3000 in the interim years, Gwen Stefani can pick right back up with the skanking fury of songs like opener "Spiderwebs," and appear just as at home doing so.
No Doubt has stayed consistent musically, but the band's ability to hold up physically is either eerie or a testament to living right. Much has been made over the year's about Stefani's meticulously maintained midsection, and her abs absolutely retain washboard status despite mothering two children with husband Gavin Rossdale. Her first outfit was designed to showcase this fact, though the latter two were a bit more demure. The entire band displayed a black-and-white look said in interviews to be inspired by A Clockwork Orange, though it also fits a new wave aesthetic the group is clearly found of, given their covers of Talk Talk and Adam Ant songs.
The rest of the band looks no worse for wear, from touring horn section/multi-instrumentalists Stephen Bradley and Gabrial McNair to drummer Adrian Young, still making the wacky, skimpy outfits thing work for him (Tuesday night was a pair of underpants and black-and-white checkered socks). There will be a time soon, fans have been assured, that No Doubt will release a new album--their first since Rock Steady in late 2001--but Tuesday night was all about recapturing what made the band so beloved in the first place, distilling 20 years of genre-melding radio hits into an hour and 45 minute set.
The set list was very similar to their 2004 Singles tour, though a couple of less well-known Tragic Kingdom tracks were included (the title track and "Different People"). The crowd was receptive to all of it, screaming out for Stefani from the moment supporting act Katy Perry ended. Fans mellowed only when the band mellowed, like during first encore song "Rocksteady" (a needed comedown after "Just a Girl"). Each song was paired with a video that provided momentary visual distraction from the band's non-stop on-stage antics. "Ex-Girlfriend" was given a '70s spy movie motif, "Bathwater" saw the band splashed in Warhol-esque primary colors.
It's important not to oversell the significance of it being a hometown show--any band of No Doubt's stature, playing in a packed venue of that size and delivering such an endless barrage of sing-along ready hits, would elicit loud, dedicated fans. Though where the band was from wasn't lost on anyone, certainly not the band themselves. When introducing her associates during an extended "Different People" instrumental break, Stefani was sure to point out bassist Tony Kanal's time at Anaheim High School, and guitarist Tom Dumont's time "flipping burgers" at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (then known as the less blatantly corporate Irvine Meadows). She worked "Orange County" into lyrics ("Orange County is so rock steady"), called us "Orange County girls" and "Orange County boys," and generally yelled "Orange County!" a lot, so there was no mistaking where the band was from (or where this concert was happening).
For as much as the fans loved No Doubt, the band did their best to reciprocate, with Stefani leaning way into the crowd at two different points, bringing up a few fans on stage for pictures with them, and opining on the "whole 'nother dimension of weirdness and trippiness" selling out four shows at Verizon entails. It's nothing that they have to do, and they certainly aren't going to go as far as Perry--who, living up to her most popular song, kissed a girl in the crowd--but it's still at least a hint that maybe the band really hasn't let international fame and unfathomable success change them all that much. Or they're at least self-aware enough to want people to think that, which is effectively just as good.
It would have been nice if openers the Sounds (who have three albums and got only 25 minutes) and Katy Perry (who has one and got 40) could have switched positions, but both were stylistically ideal choices for No Doubt support. The audience was appreciative, even if Sweden's the Sounds, who got on first at 7:15 p.m., played to a roughly 25-percent full house. Also playing their fourth Irvine show in five days, they focused on songs from June's Crossing the Rubicon like "No One Sleeps When I'm Awake," which was well-received by those thoughtful enough to show up early (or shrewd enough to avoid traffic). Not a lot of songs from their 2003 debut Living in America, though, even if their backdrop (which had to rest on top of Perry's much larger, much more colorful backdrop) is the cover of that record. Still, their neo-Missing Persons act remains endearing, and even a quarter of the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater is still a lot of people.
Though given Perry's explosive success in the past year, it's not the least bit surprising she got the middle slot. Prancing (honestly, that's an apt word) across the stage in what was essentially one-piece bathing suit and fishnet stockings, Perry retained humility by several times thanking the crowd for showing up early to see her, and saying that she had just met Stefani, and wanted to "be like her when (she grows) up." Though criticisms can be (and have been!) made over Perry's music for being sexist or stupid, what it truly was Tuesday night was fun, and the inflatable strawberries, pink flamingos and light-up mic stand on stage all back that thesis up. Though it is a little weird to watch Perry singer her relatively somber ballad "Thinking of You" while in that outfit.
No Doubt brought the Sounds and Perry back on stage for encore number "Stand and Deliver," much like how Shirley Manson of Garbage and Brody Dalle (now Brody Homme) of the since-disbanded Distillers regularly joined No Doubt for a cover of Blondie's "Call Me" during ND's fall 2002 tour. The parting shot was "Sunday Morning," another song off 1995's Tragic Kingdom. Pessimistically, that could be viewed as tacit admission that the band peaked creatively more than a decade ago. Realistically, it's final proof that out of all of No Doubt's talents, their best might be knowing what their fans want.
Random Detail: Photographer Andrew Youssef reports that Kirsten Dunst, of Elizabethtown (and oh yeah, Spider-Man) fame, was mere steps away from him in the pit.
Personal Bias: The only thing inhibiting my joy during the show was lingering guilt over how much taller I was than most of the (mostly female) fans in the standing-room only area. At the end of "Just A Girl," when Stefani sings "had it up to here," someone next to me gestured towards my head.
By the Way: No Doubt's "reunion" tour (they never broke up!) hits Saturday at the same place it sorta started--the Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre in Chula Vista. Tickets are still available; and half-off today courtesy of the mensches over at Live Nation. (The final two dates are in Hawaii on August 11 and 12.)
No Doubt set list:
"Underneath It All"
"Excuse Me Mr."
"Simple Kind of Life"
"The Guns of Navarone" (Skatalites cover)
"It's My Life" (Talk Talk cover)
"Just a Girl"
"Stand and Deliver" (Adam and the Ants cover)
Katy Perry set list:
"One of the Boys"
"Hot N Cold"
"Thinking of You"
"Ur So Gay"
"Waking Up in Vegas"
"Don't Stop Me Now" (Queen cover)
"I Kissed a Girl"
The Sounds set list:
"Tony the Beat"
"No One Sleeps When I'm Awake"
"Hope You're Happy Now"
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