Gwen Stefani strutted to the front of the stage Saturday night at Atlantic City's Borgata Events Center, copped a dude-on-the-street-corner pose in her baggy boyfriend jeans, and pulled up her white wife-beater, showing off her can't-believe-she-popped-out-two-kiddies washboard abs. She nodded her head knowingly, then pumped and flexed her biceps. If anyone remained unsure whether Gwen, playing live with No Doubt for the first time in five years, was still the fittest rock singer this side of Madonna, she dropped to the ground and banged out a dozen pushups before popping back up to coo the first words of the band's breakthrough hit, "Just a Girl."
But she, of course, is far more than just a girl. Since the last time No Doubt toured the world, Stefani's become a mom (Kingston, 3, Zuma, 8 months), fashion mogul, and chart-topping solo artist -- basically, a bona fide superstar, but, thankfully, not at all in the band-destroying manner portrayed more than a decade ago in the band's video for "Don't Speak." And while they're going to great lengths to convey their unity visually -- they've got semi-matching, all-white stage duds, and all four members now sport platinum blonde hair -- it's plain to see that Stefani, guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal, and drummer Adrian Young simply love being No Doubt.
Even with the color-coordinated outfits and coiffure, though, No Doubt remain Gwen Stefani's show: She led her posse through supercharged song after song, commanding the stage like a cool-as-fuck cheerleader, and dishing out one confessional song after another. (Poor Tony -- all these years, and he still has to listen to Gwen revisit their tumultuous romance every night onstage. Here's hoping they've got the vocals turned down in his monitors.) When she wasn't breaking Tony's heart again, Gwen stopped to offer aww-shucks one-liners: "This is the first time I've sung this since the babies came out of my belly," she whispered before "Simple Kind of Life." And doe-eyed flattery to the fans: "You're even more adorable than I remember!"
Yes, we were. Thanks for noticing! But No Doubt were also decidedly more awesome than we remembered. The quartet -- with a notable assist from longtime touring keyboardists/vocalists/horn players Stephen Bradley and Gabriel McNair, whose contributions help No Doubt fully realize their live sound -- romped through a supremely crowd-pleasing setlist packed with hits (14 of the 19 songs appear on the band's 2003 singles collection), and thankfully devoid of their newest song, a lackluster cover of Adam & the Ants' "Stand and Deliver" recorded for their appearance on Gossip Girl later this month.
It was an auspicious beginning to an epic summer tour -- the kind that might burn out a band that has been away from the road for half a decade, especially one whose members have families and loads of other interests. But then, at the afterparty at the Borgata's subterranean mur.mur nightclub, we looked up from our vodka sodas and made a shocking discovery: Decidedly not tired Gwen, Tony, Tom, and a mostly-naked Adrian, dancing on a platform two feet from our table, singing along to the sounds of Sublime's "Santeria," blasting from the club's sound system.
A hella good start, indeed.
No Doubt set list:
"Underneath It All"
"Excuse Me Mr."
"Simple Kind of Life"
"End It On This"
"It's My Life"
"Just a Girl"
"Everything in Time"