Shooting what little breeze there is on a hot, insufferably still L.A. day, Gwen Stefani suddenly feels the need to cull a statistic from a bandmate. ”How many times do you think you’ve thrown up in your life, Tony?” she asks. Tony Kanal looks like he’s not certain he wants to play this game. ”I’m sure it’s a lot,” the bass player answers with a nervous chuckle. Better to focus on the immediate future. ”This time,” he insists, ”it’s gonna be much more mellow and healthy.” Fifty points if you’ve already figured out our subject of the day: rock touring.
Their little O.C.-teen-ska-band-that-could, No Doubt, is hitting the amphitheater circuit in June, pairing up with blink-182 for one of the summer’s most anticipated tours. (One of the most economical, too: Ticket prices top out in the mid-two-figure range, or about $250 cheaper than it’d cost you for a similar seat to see Madonna.) It’s a nationwide victory lap in honor of their recent blockbuster hits collection, ”The Singles 1992 – 2003”, whose one new song, a cover of Talk Talk’s ”It’s My Life,” afforded them yet another top 10 smash (their tenth). This could be the optimal point in their history to catch the band: They’ve been together long enough to almost count as seasoned elder statesmen – 17 years, which is about 170 in rock years – but, being still in their 30s, they’re vigorous, scrappy, and in no danger yet of outgrowing their audience.
Which is not to say they haven’t outgrown a few youthful vices. In ”Hey Baby,” one of several massive singles from their triple-platinum 2001 album ”Rock Steady,” Stefani immortalized her bandmates’ old postshow romantic pursuits, as ironically observed by her from across a crowded bacchanal. But any would-be female band-aids hoping to be party to that decadence this summer may walk away disappointed, since, with everyone in the group either married, engaged, or seriously involved, that song is primarily a historical document.
”I’m sad for Tony on this tour a little bit,” Stefani says, offering sympathy for her bassist and ex-boyfriend’s lost youth. ”Because these guys used to party so hard. Basically they would start drinking at around five to get rid of the hangover from the night before. Then they’d have an after-party every night, bring a DJ booth and lights and songs and everything, with whatever backstage passes got out to whatever girls. And it was months of that, every single night. The nights we didn’t play, they would go to clubs.” Those years may be gone, but, to crudely paraphrase ”Casablanca,” they’ll always have porcelain.
Speaking of toilets (and we do promise to move along), now is as good a time as any to offer a word of warning for anyone planning to catch No Doubt this summer. If you’re buying beer before their set, be sure to ask for a child-size cup, because there will be ”no bathroom breaks.” Which is to say, you won’t be getting any of those less familiar album tracks that usually signal fair-weather rock fans to make the traditional dash for the loo. The whole set list will come off that best-of. ”It’s really exciting to be able to go on a tour where every single song we’re gonna play will be a single,” enthuses Stefani. ”It’s gonna be like this” – whereupon she strikes a James Bond pose, spraying the room with firepower: ”Bang bang bang bang bang!”