Thursday, April 26 , 2018, 3:20 pm | A Few Clouds 60º


Paul Mann: No Doubt Rocks Santa Barbara Bowl

Gwen Stefani and her band work the crowd and themselves into a dancing, screaming frenzy

Last-minute ticket sales ensured yet another sold-out show, as this summer’s Santa Barbara Bowl season began the first day of Fiesta with No Doubt.

It was easy to see why the ticket prices were some of the priciest of the year, with truck loads of equipment creating a massive arenalike stage show, easily eclipsing the visual extravaganza of The Fray concert the week before. The massive production wouldn’t have even been possible a few short years ago, before extensive renovations to the Santa Barbara Bowl venue.

It has now become apparent what developers had in mind when they undertook the expensive and time-consuming project. Generations of fans arrived early to soak up the atmosphere, with more than a few families bringing their smiling offspring.

Opening act The Sounds was greeted with an uncharacteristically large crowd as throngs of fans continued to flood into the Bowl much earlier than usual.

The Sounds were formed in Helsinborg, Sweden, in 1999, but it has an ‘80s new-wave sound. Lead singer Maja Ivarsson has a look and voice very similar to singer Dale Bozzio, of 1980s band Missing Persons.

In fact, the bands have a similar sound. The Sounds has racked up an impressive touring record in the decade since it formed and has released an EP and three albums of music. Strutting around the stage, Ivarsson danced suggestively with the band’s members living up to her reputation as “one of the hottest women in rock,” according to Blend Magazine. The band received an enthusiastic response from early-bird fans.

As the sun began to fade during the set change, anticipation increased and the crowd swelled. The food and beverage area — particularly the beer lines — were swamped with people apparently overcome with the spirit of Fiesta. Nearly everyone had found their place as the day turned to twilight and a nearly full moon cast a bright glow in the sky. A large white curtain fell, covering the stage in darkness, and fans began to scream with excitement. Then, all at once, the curtains parted, revealing a massive multitiered stage with No Doubt band members dressed in all white. The band had come a long way from the No Doubt I had witnessed playing in the now-defunct Graduate nightclub in Isla Vista, in the early 1990s.

I used to run the light board or spotlight for Luners Pro Sound and Lighting back in the grunge days of rock and roll. The job didn’t pay much, but it was a great opportunity to see some of California greatest touring bands of the era. No Doubt had a much more traditional ska sound back then, and nobody at that time would have predicted that they would have become the super group they are today. But that all of changed with the 1995 release of “Tragic Kingdom,” with Gwen Stefani helping pen hit songs such as Just a Girl.

The songs came out of the real-life tragedy and drama in the band’s life, including the early suicide of original band member John Spence, the departure of Stefani’s brother, Eric, to pursue an animation career, and the end of a seven-year relationship between Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal.

Stefani emerged as a role model for modern American women, with a strong domineering personality while singing of life’s daily challenges of a girl in a man’s world. The album garnered the band worldwide attention and went on to become one of the bestselling albums in music history, with more than 16 million sold to date. The band has won numerous awards, including two Grammys. A five-year hiatus, punctuated by Stefani’s phenomenal solo career, seemed only to heighten the band’s mercurial appeal.

Fans leaped to their feet and screamed with excitement as the band exploded on stage for its triumphant return to Santa Barbara. Looking more like a high school Olympic swimmer than a middle-age mom, Stefani was every bit the pop diva superstar and danced maniacally about the multileveled stage. But Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young held their own dancing and playing furiously, to keep pace with the mercurial Stefani.

The massive backdrop exploded periodically in colorful graphics unique to each song, while large video screens followed the band’s antics. Halfway through the frenzied set, Stefani disappeared, and Stephen Bradley and Gabriel McNair moved from their backing vocal and keyboard location to take center stage.

The masterful trumpet and trombone player respectively began to lead the rest of the band in an indulgence of reggae and ska music and dancing. Then the lights went out and the stage was reset, before a futuristic backdrop was revealed and Stefani pranced back onstage dressed like a member of the Jetsons cartoon family. The new set featured newer material before the band climaxed with some of its biggest hits, including Just a Girl, which had proud moms and daughters singing along in tandem.

It was a great night “just” to be a girl, or a guy who gets to watch.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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