In the five years since No Doubt last toured across the nation, lead singer Gwen Stefani hit Top 40 paydirt as a solo artist, releasing two full-length albums adored by both critics and fans alike that reveled in the glitter and sweat of 21st century clubland.
So much, in fact, that Stefani's outrageous success as a platinum-selling act in her own right left many wondering whether or not she would ever go back to her roots with the ska-pop quartet who helped catapult her to the upper echelons of superstardom. Hence, it came to quite a pleasant surprise to the sold-out crowd at the Borgata Hotel and Casino to see the band return to the stage with more energy than they have ever displayed in their 15-odd years making up and breaking up together.
In actuality, what was billed as a warm-up gig, however, was in fact a full blown concert experience displaying a well-oiled group making a triumphant comeback to the world stage. "I betcha didn't think I was really gonna do this," Stefani gleefully taunted the female-heavy crowd ecstatic to see the 39-year-old mother of two reunite with her homeboys. "I told ya so!"
Decked out in classic black-and-white attire, the Orange County foursome returned with a vengeance, aiming right for the jugular of those who ever doubted their validity as a legitimate ska-punk band. Over the course of their ninety-minute-plus long set, Stefani, bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young, supported by longtime associates Stephen Bradley and Gabrial McNair, boasted, roasted and toasted their way through every hit in their canon. From the obvious to the obscure, they also switched things up along the way with surprising results.
For "Hey Baby" and "Underneath It All," they employed dub-like dissolves that added a blunted, psychedelic new twist to the otherwise radio-friendly dance tune. The seminal "Tragic Kingdom" track "Excuse Me Mr." was also given a somewhat radical new makeover, coming dangerously close to the sound of Regatta de Blanc-era Police. Meanwhile, the fiery opener "Spiderwebs" and a remix of "Rock Steady", which Gwen called her "most favorite song ever," proved that No Doubt were indeed a ska band to be taken seriously. This point was driven home by a bouncy rendition of the Skatalites' "Guns of Navarone" that took the hit-hungry crowd to school.
While No Doubt spent a good portion of their set reestablishing their street cred, they balanced the show out with a robust serving of fan favorites that further ensured the people got their money's worth. Stefani, exhibiting the kind of energy hardly indicative of a woman on the brink of 40 and months shy of giving birth to a third child, flailed around the stage like a whirling dervish -- she flexed her muscles and did ten full form push-ups before blasting into the group's breakthrough smash "Just A Girl," followed by a heartfelt version of "A Simple Kind of Life." It was the first time Stefani sang the yearning love ballad "since the two babies came out of my belly," she said about the latter. Stefani then took it back to her solo club days during a particularly dance-heavy run through of "Hella Good".
Opening for No Doubt was the new wave supergroup Tinted Windows, who most of the crowd was completely amped to see, mainly because it featured the likes of former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos, Fountains of Wayne bassist/singer Adam Schlesinger and former teen idol Taylor Hanson.
The group played a tight, terse set stemming largely from their just-released eponymous debut, and whose Knack-like riffs punctuated by Iha's corrosively catchy guitar playing proved to be a perfect foil for No Doubt. It's too bad they aren't joining Gwen and the boys on the road for the rest of the summer, because these two make for a good show —no doubt about it.