When some idiot in the audience fired a gym shoe and bonked Gwen Stefani on her head, 2,000-plus No Doubt fans gasped. The singer seemed dazed for a few seconds but dusted herself off and then threw herself back into the psychodrama of her music.
"Marry me, marry me," she cooed from the lip of the stage, shimmying in a spangled white halter top and languidly waving a fake-fur boa just a few inches from dozens of outstretched arms. Then, like the consummate rock & roll actress she is, the pink-haired Stefani switched from coy seductress into Blade Runner stalker: By song's end, "Marry me, marry me" sounded more like a threat than a plea.
No Doubt's post-New Wave pop desperately needs the singer's charisma to get its message across. The longtime Southern California quartet – abetted by two horn players on a stage trimmed in white shag carpeting tried to work up the crowd's enthusiasm for the more introspective material on its new album, Return of Saturn. But only the hits from No Doubt's 10 million-selling 1995 breakthrough, Tragic Kingdom, revved the crowd's pogo engine. New songs such as "Simple Kind of Life" and "Too Late" found Stefani pining for a little romantic stability, echoing the signature ballad "Don't Speak" while moving the band further away from its ska roots. More engaging were the gleeful, ball-busting choruses of "Excuse Me Mr." and "Happy Now?," which had bassist Tony Kanal and Stefani bouncing like tots on a trampoline. And when the tempo flagged, the singer made up the difference, selling the tunes with a sassy warble that suggested Lydia Lunch crossed with Betty Boop. She even got the boys in the audience to sing, "I'm just a girl in the world," while she looked on like a mischievous big sister. When the set was done, she cartwheeled off the stage, one shoe richer.
This story is from the May 11, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.