No Doubt : London King’s Cross Scala

Quite a night, and as comebacks go, up there with Elvis...

Ready for that dancehall ska-punk new wave bubblegum supergroup? Me neither. But here [a]No Doubt[/a] are, hurling themselves through genre after genre at this low-key show at the Scala like ace sprinters who’ve decided they’ll take on all comers at the pentathlon, just so long as someone shows them the starting line.

There is a reason. Having taken out a mortgage on the world’s charts with ‘Don’t Speak’ way back in the mists of ’97, the band have since embarked on a nosedive of heroic proportions, culminating in last year’s gloomy ‘Return Of Saturn’ album, a record so, well, un-[a]No Doubt[/a] that even their fans don’t like talking about it.

In contrast, Gwen Stefani’s personal star-stock has recently gone through the roof, bolstered by a high octane Hollywood lifestyle and that killer collaboration with Eve on ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind’. In order to correct this imbalance comes bizarre new album ‘Rock Steady’ -not so much a musical face-lift as major plastic surgery- and tonight’s showcase, their first in the capital this century.

A bare-chested Indian brave sporting a multi-coloured mohican and silver headphones appears. This, it transpires, is drummer and general cheerleader Adrian Young. By way of introduction he thumps his drums which, in response, flash yellow, orange and purple.

Gwen Stefani vogues her way from the wings decked out in a ‘No Doubt’ bikini top and diamond encrusted jeans. The place erupts. Beside her, [a]Madonna[/a]

is a blushing wallflower, [a]Jennifer Lopez[/a]

a quivering wreck of self-doubt. The infernal beat of ‘Hella Good’ starts up. Gwen leaps onto the drum riser and fixes us with a steely gaze which could melt the ice in your cocktail.

She may have only had moderate ska-punk and an iron will with which to do it in the past, but tonight she has clearly come for our souls.

‘Rock Steady’ gets put through it’s paces. Before you know it, the band are flitting from the horny dancehall swagger of new single ‘Hey Baby’ to the frantic, guitar-heavy splurge of ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ to the lilting whimsy of ‘Underneath It All’. If they started up a waltz-time New Romantic bluebeat shuffle you’d simply shrug your shoulders and wait for the metal solo to kick in. Whilst the paranoid party shuffles continue-each played as if their lives depended on it – Gwen strides across the stage eyeballing anyone who dares to question her role as the undisputed Queen of Kitsch. You never thought it possible, but the overall effect is spellbinding.

Squint, and she’s a peak-period [a]Madonna[/a] fronting the [a]Red Hot Chili Peppers[/a].By the time they get to a heroic, world-toppling ‘Don’t Speak’ and a blitzkreig frug through ‘Just A Girl’ it becomes clear that all opposition to [a]No Doubt[/a]’s warped take on, well, everything, is futile.

The band, sensing a victory of epic proportions, re-emerge for the encores slurping on cocktails. A stripped down rendition of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ consisting of Gwen crooning along to a solo guitar finds the crowd gathered up into one amorphous mass and placed into the palm of Ms. Stefani’s hand. The following, final ‘Spiderwebs’, from ’97s ‘Tragic Kingdom’ has the entire place singing along in unison, despite the fact that barely any of them have any idea what the words are. Quite a night, and as comebacks go, up there with Elvis.

Jason Fox