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Coachella 2024: No Doubt dusts off energetic greatest hits with assist from Olivia Rodrigo

No Doubt performs at Coachella
No Doubt performs at Coachella on Saturday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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Gwen Stefani wanted to get this straight.

“You showed up to Coachella, Saturday night 2024,” she asked, “to see No Doubt play together on this stage for the first time in nine years?” Dressed in a shredded plaid outfit, her blond hair twisted into a pair of knots atop her head, the 54-year-old frontwoman was addressing the gigantic crowd gathered before the festival’s main stage for just that purpose.

“Are you crazy?”

That was one way to explain why No Doubt — the beloved ska-punk band from Anaheim that exploded with 1995’s “Tragic Kingdom,” making Stefani a major pop star, before eventually drifting apart in 2015 — had returned to such a hero’s welcome at Coachella, where the group was billed in a kind of sub-headlining slot occupied in recent years by Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia.

No Doubt performs at Coachella.
No Doubt performs at Coachella on Saturday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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Jakob Nowell and the original members of Sublime talk about the band’s legacy, parting ways with singer Rome Ramirez and their sun-soaked Long Beach sound.

April 4, 2024

Yet Stefani and her bandmates weren’t the only ’90s-rock veterans at the festival this year: Just before No Doubt on Saturday came performances by Blur and by a new version of Sublime featuring the son of the late Bradley Nowell, who died in 1996 just as the Long Beach band was about to join No Doubt in the big leagues. Classic KROQ-era alternative rock, it seems, is all the rage again — not merely thanks to reunited OGs but among guitar-wielding young stars like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo, the latter of whom joined No Doubt at Coachella (dressed in a No Doubt T-shirt, no less) to sing the jaunty “Bathwater.”

Here Stefani demonstrated how tightly she’s maintained her grip on her live-wire stage presence despite the fact that she’s spent much of the past decade doing soft-focus TV (as a judge on “The Voice”) and trying her hand at soft-focus country music (with her husband, the Nashville star Blake Shelton). She skanked, she jump-kicked, she did push-ups; she climbed a lighting rig to conduct the crowd in singing a few lines of No Doubt’s hit “Just a Girl.” Her vocals were strong throughout the show, with little in the way of evident backing tracks; repertoire-wise, the band stuck to the classics — “Hella Good,” “Ex-Girlfriend,” “Underneath It All,” “Spiderwebs” — and reached back for the thrashing “Total Hate ’95” (originally a duet with Sublime’s Nowell) and for a cover of Madness’ “One Step Beyond.”

No Doubt
No Doubt performs at Coachella on Saturday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Emotionally, Stefani was perhaps a bit less in touch with her material than you might’ve wanted. “Simple Kind of Life,” which she wrote about her dreams for her relationship with her first husband, rocker Gavin Rossdale, had little of the yearning she tapped into on 2000’s “Return of Saturn”. At the festival, it sounded almost like a taunt, as though she were making fun of her younger, more vulnerable self.

Yet she found her way deep into the drama of No Doubt’s finest song, the deathless power ballad “Don’t Speak,” which depicts her long-ago breakup with the band’s bassist, Tony Kanal. As she sang it Saturday, cameras fed extreme closeups of her face to the enormous video screens flanking the stage, and you felt as though you could see all those old memories flooding into her mind.

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