Thousands of Staind and Linkin Park fans are packed into the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, unaware that No Doubt are about to make a surprise appearance. And, to tell the truth, no one is sure if these fans really care. No Doubt are the only band tonight with a female member, the only group more attuned to ska and reggae than rap and rock, and the only act whose current single, “Hey Baby,” is full of New Wave electronics and drum-machine beats. There is no aggression or angst to be found in “Hey Baby,” kids, just Gwen Stefani singing about sipping chamomile tea. Can you relate to that?
It is Sunday, December 9th, 2001, and it is the sixth anniversary of many things for No Doubt. In 1995, performing at this same holiday concert for local radio station KROQ proved a pivotal moment for the group and its break-through album, Tragic Kingdom, which went on to sell 10 million copies and transform this oddball Orange County, California, band into international superstars. It was also the night that Stefani met Gavin Rossdale, the singer of the show's headlining band, Bush, setting off a six-year relationship that continues to this day. And it was the night the Douche first appeared. Yes, the Douche. Watch out for the Douche.
The Douche, anyone from the band will tell you with equal parts glee and dread, is guitarist Tom Dumont's alter ego when he's drunk. At the time, No Doubt had just landed the prized opening gig on Bush's upcoming tour. The bands hadn't met before, and no one was more excited about breaking the ice than Dumont, who idolized Bush guitarist Nigel Pulsford. Unfortunately, Dumont got drunk and the Douche arrived at the KROQ show instead. He barged into Bush's dressing room, walked up to Pulsford, who plays Fender guitars, and spat, “Fender sucks!” Eventually the band kicked him out. The next day, No Doubt received a frantic phone call from Bush's record company, telling them that if they couldn't keep themselves under control, they'd be off the tour.
Tonight, Bush and No Doubt are together on the KROQ bill again, and they are both facing a new predicament: Most of their fans who were teens in 1995 are now grown up. Each band must win over a new audience.
“We were, like, nothing six years ago,” says Stefani.
Sort of like At the Drive-In when they opened this concert last year? “Yeah,” she says. “But not as cool.”
No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal, Stefani's ex-boyfriend, looks at the band's career like the original Star Wars trilogy. Tragic Kingdom was Star Wars, exploding out of nowhere to become a huge international phenomenon. Return of Saturn, the follow-up, was The Empire Strikes Back, darker and less entertaining, and left people scratching their heads. Rock Steady, their new dance-hall-meets-New Wave album, recorded with Ric Ocasek, Prince, rap producers the Neptunes, Nellee Hooper of Massive Attack, and reggae tweakers Sly and Robbie, is Return of the Jedi. “It's, like, full of Ewoks,” Kanal says. “You know, just happy.”
Happy and fun are the operative words for No Doubt this time around. Stefani can't stop talking about how thrilled she was to see their poster outside Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard. There's only one thing she's more excited about right now, and that's spending time with Rossdale.
“Can you ever know that one person is the one?” she asks. “I'm always questioning that. I think we both question that. The one year that I think we had so much fun together was this year, because we spent so much time together and got to really know each other.” She pauses. “Not that we didn't know each other already.” She pauses again. “I just can't believe it's been six years.”
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