A peroxide blur of flirty calisthenics, No Doubt's Gwen Stefani spent most of her time at Nissan Pavilion Friday sprinting, skipping and cartwheeling -- yes, cartwheeling -- across the massive stage. For the throngs who'd braved the cruddy weather to see Stefani and show closers Blink-182 -- the hottest twin bill of the summer concert season -- rock's reigning queen was the perfect remedy for a rainy night.
From her constant eyelash-batting to her little-girl coo, Stefani played like a throwback pinup, stretching out in a claw-foot tub and vamping on a stand-up piano. "Why do the good girls always want the bad, stinky, naughty boys?" she asked at one point, triggering thoughts of bank robberies in all the good boys' heads.
Along with the constant bump and grind, Stefani and her band mates -- including her former flame, bassist Tony Kanal -- kept the good tunes coming, cramming a 75-minute set with the entirety of their new greatest-hits album.
Seventeen years after forming in Anaheim, Calif., No Doubt is still clearly thrilled to play those hits. Arena-size oomph was added to the old ska-pop numbers ("Just a Girl," "Spiderwebs"), the rockers ("Ex-Girlfriend," "Bathwater") and their recent New Wave-y cuts ("Hella Good," "Hey Baby"). When Stefani allowed the crowd to sing most of the ballad "Don't Speak," it was considered gracious, not lazy.
Due to the steady downpour and Nissan's deserved rep as a traffic nightmare, thousands of fans were still slogging to their seats halfway through No Doubt's opening set. But most were in place for Stefani's brightest flash of star power: an acoustic version of "Simple Kind of Life," a song she wrote about her secret self, the one that longs to have children, bake cookies and mind the manor. It was only at the song's end -- when she started thrusting her hips again and dropping more curse words than Tony Soprano -- that you realized a white picket fence would be no match for her.
That was only the second most incandescent moment of the night, though. Halfway through Blink-182's 75 minutes of thrashing pop-punk silliness (which was a lot more punk than pop), bassist Mark Hoppus, claiming a concern for "fire safety," asked the crowd to flick their cell phones instead of their Bics. Just like that, a gorgeous sea of blue and green cellular fireflies lit up the night.
Of course, that's about as touchy-feely as it got with this trio of SoCal rapscallions, whose albums sound nuanced compared with their fast-as-they-can, feedback-aplenty live shows. Such likable radio favorites as "The Rock Show" and "Feeling This" were indistinguishable from each other, and only their biggest hit, the melodic "All the Small Things," from 1999's "Enema of the State," was kept at a singalong pace. Making for a pretty good sight gag, chandeliers were dropped for the new ballad "I Miss You." Although the song is a stunner on the band's self-titled new album, the stage version was a shambles.
Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge seemed bored with the whole affair, lazily trading insults and, save for shaving the head of a dude joining the Army, doing little to engage the crowd. But the truly astounding Travis Barker, that rare breed of celebrity drummer, kept the kids screaming and the roadies working, blowing out a succession of snare drums with an out-of-his-mohawked-head pounding not seen since Animal of the Muppets.
Covered almost entirely in creepy tattoos, Barker pulled a cool magic trick late in the night, popping up in the middle of the crowd on a flashing, rotating drum riser. With his band mates taking a break, Barker played -- arms flailing, sticks blurring -- to recorded tracks of OutKast's "B.O.B." and Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks." Although Blink-182 didn't make you forget how good Stefani was, Barker did pull off a rather impressive feat: He made drum solos cool again.