TAMPA — It's been a long time since Gwen Stefani was just a girl fronting a spazzy, party-minded rock crew. After she ditched the dudes in No Doubt in 2004, the former tomboy became a solo starlet and a fashion designer and a celebu-mom. No more thrashy ska for her; Gwennie was shiny, sparkly, new.
But on the biggest reunion tour of the summer, the platinum-topped singer is pulling off the princess heels, pulling on the old tank tops. Everything was in place at the No Doubt gig at Ford Amphitheatre on Tuesday: The guys in the band were jacked to be cashing checks again. And a sold-out crowd of 20,000 stuffed the rain-soaked venue (although many reportedly arrived late and cranky due to a storm, an accident on Interstate 4 and a graduation at the fairgrounds).
Could Stefani slip back into her old role? If a recent performance on American Idol was any indication — yikes! On Idol, the song Just a Girl came off more like a Saturday Night Live parody of No Doubt, with perhaps Andy Samberg playing an unsure housewife desperate to fit in with the cool kids.
But you know what? Per usual, I blame Ryan Seacrest for everything. Leaving her solo hits off the set list, and sticking mainly to No Doubt staples, the 39-year-old Stefani was a shimmering, aerobicizing wonder, swaggery but sweet. Opening with 1995's Spiderwebs, the band was tight and amped, decked out in white and hopping and bopping on a Space Age stage that looked like LAX.
"We're here because we want to be inspired," said the superheroically fit singer. The quartet is planning on recording a new album after the tour. But they sure didn't seem bored with the oldies. Fueled by mohawked drummer Adrian Young, and backed by extra horns and keyboards, they spent 90 ska-strong minutes uncorking chart-toppers: Hella Good, Hey Baby, Don't Speak.
For the ballad Simple Kind of Life, written way back in 2000, Stefani dreamily crooned of being a wife and a mom amid rock-star turmoil. The crowd cheered throughout, fully embracing Gwen both old and new. And like a good mama, in return she constantly checked on the "slushies" in the lawn seating, who bounced all night despite their soggy, smelly shoes.
No Doubt had two female-led, boy-backed opening acts: Swedish New Wavers the Sounds and American It Band Paramore, the Grammy-nominated group that's white-hot with the Twilight set. As a money-making move, bringing those groups along was smart. But as an artistic move, it was even smarter. Seeing the young gals rock 'n' rule has obviously helped Gwennie get her groove back.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.