Three cheers for Gwen Stefani: in 15 years as front woman for No Doubt, she's unabashedly sported extra pounds, bad hair, zits, braces, and small boobs and aired her dirty laundry over the radio waves--and her public still adores her. No Doubt have no shame when it comes to image overhaul; they've got genre wanderlust, blending ska, cruise-ship funk, cabaret kitsch, techno rap, and melancholy rock. The popularity of 1995's Tragic Kingdom turned tomboy Stefani into a svelte pinup girl, and 2000's more mellow Return of Saturn transformed the whole band into a candy-coated glam outfit. They've done it again with the release of Rock Steady, which features some of the most blatant misappropriation of reggae since Eric Clapton did "I Shot the Sheriff." The CD's a guilty pleasure, a constant barrage of dancehall beats, cheeky new-wave synths, and bad poetry. But it's the product of a parade of producers that included Nellee Hooper, Ric Ocasek, Prince, the Neptunes, William Orbit, and dancehall kings Steely & Clevie, and as excellent as it sounds on a plastic disc, it doesn't translate onstage--or at least it didn't during a recent performance on Saturday Night Live. The main problem with exchanging guitars for keyboards is that it's not easy to rock out when a machine is doing the rocking for you. Poor wild man Adrian Young looked awkward behind the octagonal drum pads; there were so many special effects loaded on the synths that pressing one key would release an explosion of noise, relieving all the humans involved of any real need to go crazy. Stefani was the only one who got an opportunity to display any raw talent--and she made the most of it. She can sing live--something most pop princesses either can't or won't do these days. As of press time, this show was sold-out. Saturday, April 6, 7:30 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence; 773-561-9500 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank W. Ockenfels 3.