Any returning mega-band thinking of mounting a huge reunion tour to drain poor folk of their cash (cough Blink-182 cough) need look no further than No Doubt's current tour and sold-out set last night at Cynthia Woods to see how it should be done.
For the bands that were fortunate enough to be opening for the SoCal power-poppers, it also stands as a lesson in how to age gracefully in an industry that increasingly seems to be honoring youth over experience. Hell, in five years a fetus may have its own Twitter and Disney Channel show. No Doubt can still rock as hard as it did with Clinton in the White House.
The Sounds, a devastatingly underrated Swedish New Wave crew, opened the festivities with yet another solid set of straight-ahead dancey thrash. We love the Sounds, from lead singer Maja Ivarsson's punkish wail to multi-instrumentalist Jesper Anderberg's constant sound manipulations. The tragedy of these Swedes is that they should be a million times bigger than they are. Most American audiences only see them at the beginning of a monolithic bill, buried by glittery headliners. One can gain a better perspective on what they do during an hour-long set, not the 20 minutes or so they occupied last night.
Did we mention how feminine this show was? The crowd had to have been three-fourths of the lady persuasion, with a smattering of fathers and erstwhile punk rockers dotting the crowd. For many, No Doubt was their "first" band, while some may have discovered them through lead singer Gwen Stefani's sugar-dipped solo flights. Funnily enough, most of the little girls in the audience were probably not even conceived yet when Tragic Kingdom hit stores in late 1995.
Second on the bill was Paramore, arguably the main draw for some of the feistier, tattooed girls in the crowd. Aftermath sadly understands the appeal of a cute pixie-like lead screamer belting out honest lyrics about torn romance and regret. He grew up in the '90s, after all. What gets Paramore over is singer Hayley Williams. The tiny redheaded thing has more crowd control and utter charisma than most band helmers out there, of any sex or any age. Girls can actually identify with her lyrically, and Aftermath is sure the cute Hot Topic model dudes doing aerial acrobatics with their guitars behind her doesn't hurt one bit either.
Met with a howlingly loving and ecstatic cult, No Doubt came out firing on every cylinder in its nearly 20-year repertoire. "Spiderwebs" opened with the band stalking the stage in matching two-tone garb, harkening back to their true Southern California ska-punk roots. Stefani's girlie vocal stabs have aged to a soulful "mama" growl, and the rest of the band plays their songs with more heft than ever, venturing out into expanses that they may not have been comfortable with before.
"Hella Good" and "Underneath It All," both from 2001's Rock Steady experiment, got a deep treatment of soul in the band's aged hands. Guitarist Tom Dumont and bassist Tony Kanal splay these pop gems out with all the tricks they've amassed in the past near-decade of the band's hiatus. The material from the band's Return to Saturn gets an almost bluesy stamp, with Dumont stretching out solos like never before.
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"Don't Speak" got the biggest aural response, with the crowd seemingly taking over vocal duties from Stefani halfway through. The break-up chronicle has consistently stayed on pop radio for the last 13 years.
For the encore, the band returned to the stage, with Stefani decked out like a glam-Chelsea Girl, wearing a sparkly Fred Perry polo and a pair of million-hole white stompers. They launched into the title track of Rock Steady, with smoke wafting through the complex like a hazy dancehall. The Adam Ant cover "Stand and Deliver" got the old folks in the crowd dancing and had Aftermath singing the words as loud as he could, in reverence to the long-gone Insect Nation.
The band closed with "Sunday Morning," the last official single to be released off of Tragic back in 1997. Hopefully, thanks to Gwen and No Doubt, the young girls who left the Woodlands last night are still bothering Mom and Dad for guitars and amps, which, we have to say, is a pretty cool accomplishment for a bottle-blonde mother of two channeling Desmond Dekker and Debbie Harry.
Click here for a slideshow of last night's rawkin'!