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Energetic No Doubt Shows Some Ska at Irvine Tour Finale

August 07, 2000|CHRIS CEBALLOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Don't let them fool you. Despite their best efforts to prove otherwise, No Doubt is a ska band.

And that's OK, according to the 15,000 screaming fans at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Saturday night, the final show of the band's North American tour.

During the meteoric success of their 1995 smash "Tragic Kingdom" album, singer Gwen Stefani, guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young repeatedly told the world that No Doubt was not a ska band; it was a rock band.

True to their third-wave status, the once-tiny, Anaheim quartet leans more to rock than they do to reggae. But it's a fine line at best, as ska is generally considered to be a mixture of rock and reggae, anyway.

Still, the rock band assertions continued after the release of their new record, "Return of Saturn."

Yes, the new record does feature more ballads and midtempo rockers than it does frenetic and bouncy, horn-blazing, ska ditties. But from the pre-show, reggae background music, to the brass and offbeat keyboard rhythms present in all but three of the set's songs, to the final trumpet blast, No Doubt had put on a fun-filled ska show for the capacity crowd in Irvine.

Perhaps No Doubt is fearful that the "ska" label might drag them down, as it has many third- and fourth-wave ska bands that rode the coattails of the group's late 1990s success. (Witness the rapid disappearance of Anaheim's excellent ska-swing band, Save Ferris, from local airwaves shortly after the release of its second record, "Modified," late last year.)

Maybe the group is afraid of the sophomore jinx--the unreasonably high expectations following any multiplatinum success. This especially so, considering founder and chief songwriter--and Gwen's brother--Eric Stefani, quit shortly after recording "Tragic Kingdom."

But any fears they may have had surely melted away Saturday with each zealous sing-along and the raucous cheers from the fans throughout the 16-song set.

"Since this is the last show [of the tour], you have a lot to live up to," Gwen Stefani said early in the set, turning the tables. "You have to be better than [fans in] New York City . . . Ohio . . . Chicago. It's a lot of pressure. Are you ready to prove yourself, Orange County?"

The crowd met her challenge. On their feet for the entire performance, audience members sang "Don't Speak" word-for-word near the end of the show. The band proved itself, too, with a high-energy performance filled with dancing, endless pogoing, cartwheels, leapfrogging and push-ups from the tireless Stefani.

The set was evenly mixed, with most of the material from "Return of Saturn" and "Tragic Kingdom." Longtime No Doubt backup vocalists and musicians Gabrial McNair (keyboards and trombone) and Stephen Bradely (trumpet) had little time to dance during the 90-minute set; even though the band's unusually long and frequent breaks were bothersome.

Maybe No Doubt was just enjoying the homecoming?

"Ten years ago we opened for Ziggy Marley here," Stefani said, further demonstrating the band's roots.

"Tom [Dumont] grew up in Irvine and worked here [at the amphitheater]," Stefani said before launching into a brilliant rendition of "New," changing a lyric to: "And I can't find my O.C. rock now!"

*

Some of the most enjoyable moments came during ballads "Don't Speak," "Too Late" and "Simple Kind of Life," although the last one suffered from an excessively heavy bass mix.

The fans loved it all, the rock and the ska. But before the concert on the band's Web site, when fans were asked what song they'd most like to hear, they chose "Trapped in a Box," off No Doubt's decidedly ska self-titled 1992 debut.

Perhaps the best proof of whether No Doubt is a ska band lies in the final song of the night, "Spiderwebs," the infectiously horn-driven radio hit from "Tragic Kingdom."

For the finale No Doubt brought opening acts--Los Angeles hip-hop rappers Black Eyed Peas and the undeniably rock Anaheim quartet Lit--onstage for a 10-minute, extended jam.

Filled with dancing, falling confetti, extra guitar punch from Lit's Jeremy Popoff and a reggae-rap interlude from Black Eyed Peas, the capacity crowd swayed and hopped to the bittersweet end.

That's the magic of ska; the blending of seemingly incompatible musical styles resulting in irresistibly fun, dance music. That's what makes No Doubt special. They shouldn't shy away from it.

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