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Live Review: No Doubt at the Gibson Amphitheatre

July 23, 2009 |  5:36 pm


Of all the people who deserve credit for making No Doubt's return tour such a giddy success, singer Gwen Stefani's trainer merits extra kudos. When Stefani took the Gibson Amphitheatre stage Wednesday night in a brash outfit that seemed equal parts chola swagger and Hamptons riding crop, women in the audience gasped at the impeccable tone of her abdominal muscles.

Less than a year after giving birth to her second child, the 39-year-old Stefani looked every bit the insouciant Anaheim daughter, equally quick with a toothy smile or a kick in the shins. The message was clear: No Doubt is in great, great shape today.

The band's round of summer touring -- its first after a five-year hiatus -- isn't exactly a reunion, as the inventive ska-pop band never truly broke up. But it was an occasion to reconsider the impact of the Orange County band on the tastes of an in-between generation too young for grunge, but one that swapped MP3s via dial-up modem.

For many twentysomething women today, No Doubt's early-'90s hits such as "Just a Girl" and "Spiderwebs" were first clues that summer fun and speaking your mind could go hand in hand. Their boyfriends could skateboard to the punkier moments of the band's breakout album, "Tragic Kingdom," and its singles were correctives to Seattle's gloomy stranglehold on rock radio. Even the band's late-career turn toward dark and sugary club-bangers anticipated rock and rap's turn toward dance beats and collaborations. No Doubt might have been rock's first undercover poptimists.

The most surprising thing about Wednesday's show was the breadth of sounds No Doubt commanded during its long and hit-heavy set. Noirish surf-rock preceded breezy reggae; New Wave rave-ups led to gum-smacking ghettotech.

Though Stefani gets much of the camera time, much of No Doubt's power comes from its instrumental prowess. Guitarist Tom Dumont played with the precision of a metalhead and the try-everything ethic of today's eclectic pop producers, while bassist Tony Kanal and ever-lipsticked drummer Adrian Young gave the tunes a syncopated swing that still sounds like little else on rock radio. The band's two multi-instrumentalist utility men provided necessary textures, from regal horns to cued drum samples and deep funk synthesizers.

Stefani's solo success as an R&B-leaning singer and fashion label owner seems to have rubbed off on her band. Their stage set, with its sleek ascending catwalks, had a John Lautner-esque retro-futurism that might have startled a younger, scruffier No Doubt.

But the band avoided trademark Stefani singles such as "Hollaback Girl" for a good reason: It didn't need them. With a career arc from the sand-in-your-toes dub of "Different People" to the James Bond-flick rock of "Ex-Girlfriend" and '80s hat tip to Talk Talk's "It's My Life," No Doubt had quite the genre slalom run all on its own.

No Doubt's choice of openers showcased the band's influence on young female musicians. The Swedish band the Sounds played a boilerplate and over-carbonated kind of dance-punk, but won points for the unapologetic overtures of singer Maja Ivarsson. The very promising young band Paramore previewed tracks from its forthcoming album "brand new eyes" that suggested the group has been crate-digging for old Jawbreaker LPs.

Paramore singer Hayley Williams could probably see a bit of herself in the video montage of early No Doubt footage that accompanied part of the headliner's set. It showed Stefani making goofy faces while leading crowds in madcap  dancing. No Doubt's set proved the resonance of the band's career, but more important, it proved the power of an artist staying one step ahead of its audience. It almost made you want to hit the gym to keep up.


Photo by Ken Hively / LAT