taken from: Buffalo News
No Doubt brings gimmick-free flair
DARIEN — When a band embarks on a major tour without a new album to shill, it tends to be a “classic” act, with hair that matches the color of those platinum albums they put out ever so long ago.
So there’s something refreshing about No Doubt’s decision to hit the road again this summer. The Anaheim quartet’s last album came out in 2001, but it’s still on top of its game. As the group tore through its back catalog with obvious relish Friday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, the vibe was the opposite of an Eagles middle-aged money grab.
Sure, the dough doesn’t hurt — judging by the huge, cacophonous audience that took in this show, No Doubt’s drawing power hasn’t waned one iota — but this band played off each other so naturally, and so clearly enjoys being on stage together, no matter how successful their lead singer is on her own. Hell didn’t have to freeze over for this gig to happen.
The band, flanked by a pair of exuberant keyboardists/horn players, got things started with a fantastic rendition of “Spiderwebs,” a song that best represents the appeal of mid-’90s No Doubt. Taking a Ric Ocasek riff and fleshing it out with dance hall horns and some snarky lyrical hooks (e.g., “It’s all your fault/I screen my phone calls”), the song is 15 years old, yet sounded completely fresh.
In fact, very little of the band’s set felt nostalgic. The stage design had a little to do with it—the stark, shimmering white setup looked like some kind of futuristic moon station — but No Doubt’s still-significant coolness begins and ends with Gwen Stefani, who threw herself into these songs with her typical mix of energy and stylishness. Her voice honestly isn’t all that remarkable, and certainly not made for over-the-top junk like “Don’t Speak,” but boy can she bite off a line, like the cathartic “I’m so jealous!” in the tune “Ex-Girlfriend,” or the brilliant, tender metaphor that lies at the heart of the insanely catchy “Bathwater.”
With Stefani’s onstage horsepower leading the way, No Doubt did anything but mail this set in. Whether it was the snotty “Just a Girl,” the blurp-and-bleep funk of “Hey Baby” or the slow-burning reggae love song “Underneath It All,” they made it next to impossible not to get involved.
No Doubt never seemed like musical innovators to especially keep an eye on, but over the years, they’ve compiled a canon of boisterous, adventurous music that has a singular flair, and is completely free of gimmicks. They’re a pop group for sure, but they’ve dressed the hooks so well — in So-Cal ska, new wave, dance hall and just a drop of mall-punk — that they’re not only still catchy, but still relevant.
And as great as the headliner was on this night, they weren’t the best band on the bill. Janelle Monae, the first opening act, put on the kind of performance that is so unique, visceral and true that it’s awfully tough to put into words. Joined by an amazing three-piece band, the singer touched on thunderous, Outkast-like grooves, girl-group R&B and vocal jazz in her very brief set. Like James Brown fronting the JB’s, her elastic voice, nimble dance moves and unbelievable energy made for an artistic force that stops you in your tracks.