Forget Friday's three-song warm-up on the "Today" show; this was the real return of No Doubt: Saturday night at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the O.C. hitmakers blasted back with full force, skanking and strutting their way through a ridiculously tight, upbeat, 90-something-minute workout in front of a raucous, fist-pumping crowd.
It was full-speed ahead, all hits, no misses. Gwen and the guys looking (and sounding) like they hadn't missed a beat, despite the fact -- as Stefani pointed out -- that it was their "first show in five f---ing years."
Taking the stage to a super-heroic instrumental track (DUNNN-DAAA-DUNNNNNN!) and the delighted squeals of long-waiting No Doubt fanatics, the band made up for their half-decade hiatus. Wasting nary a word (aside from Stefani’s shouted instructions for the crowd to "put your hands in the air!"), they launched headlong into "Spiderwebs," all breezy horns and ska-stroked guitars, Stefani bobbing and weaving across the stage, bassist Tony Kanal and guitarist Tom Dumont popping in place and grinning like kids.
And the energy didn't let up for a second.
"Hella Good" was next, all bleepy and funky, followed by a breezy take on "Bathwater" and a dub-ified version of "Underneath It All." Stefani removed her white coat and stalked the stage, looking lithe in a wife-beater -- blue bra straps, too, if you're keeping score at home -- and baggy pants, shiny suspenders dangling behind her (the rest of the guys followed her lead, decked out in white from head-to-toe). Only after powering through four tunes did she stop and address the crowd, dropping the "five f---ing years" line" then joking, "I betcha didn't think I was really gonna do this ... I toldya so!" to gratuitous amounts of cheers.
From there, they worked their way through a new version of "Excuse Me Mr." (very Police-y, right down to the "Eeee-yo-ooohs!"), which segued into the dubby, stop-start intro to "Ex-Girlfriend" the entire band sounding tighter than the slots on casino floor. Then it was on to a sweet and soulful "Simple Kind Of Life," which Stefani introduced by saying "This is the first time I've sung this one since the two babies came out of my belly."
The entire band was showcased on a seriously fun cover of the Skatalites' "Guns of Navarone." Then Kanal and Dumont traded a goofy ska-shuffle on "Hey Baby" (Stefani also showcased her rather impressive hip-shaking techniques), then a racing version of the underrated "New," from the equally underrated 1999 flick "Go." All of which were received with overwhelming "WHOOO"s and the flashes of a million camera phones ... a couple of which Stefani also grabbed and snapped with.
Then, it was time to take this thing home. "Don't Speak" was as heart-wrenching today as it was 14 years ago, and Kanal -- in a delightfully retro move much in spirit with the evening -- thrust a lighter aloft and waived it side to side, a move mimicked by many in the audience. "Just A Girl" closed out the set, Stefani bounding and posing, the girls in the crowd screaming along to her every word. Then they embraced, thanked the crowd and departed.
Of course, there was an encore, featuring a smooth "Rock Steady," a fun take on "Different People" (complete with soul-review-style introductions of the entire band by Stefani) and then "Sunday Morning," which shook the Borgata floor.
And then, it was over, and the reunion was officially under way. One show in the bag, and what a show it was. No Doubt sounded great, brought the energy and looked like they were having an absolute blast (and the crowd did too). In fact, it felt as if they hadn't been away at all -- or, at least, not for five f---ing years.