With some package tours, you really have to wonder who in their right mind dreamed them up.
Take this current jaunt with The Faint opening for No Doubt. Both are great individually, but which Clear Channel exec thought that an underground Midwestern neo-synthpop band would do well opening for a SoCal ska meets top-40 pop act?
With tales from previous cities speaking of a vehement rejection of The Faint by an audience largely in attendance to see No Doubt, the tour’s stop at the Electric Factory on Monday night wasn’t nearly as disastrous as it could have been. However, it still left many scratching their heads in befuddlement.
The Faint frontman, Todd Baechle, prefaced their set by saying “We were hired to make you dance.” The quintet then slammed into the tight-as-shit industrial groove of “The Conductor,” as the audience surprise! stood there and stared. But Baechle did enough ass-shaking at the mic to compensate, while the band worked through a taut set of dark techno, like the stripper anthem “Worked Up So Sexual” and the apparent single “Agenda Suicide.” They displayed a remarkable vigor as they slammed about the stage and into each other. And as much as the crowd wasn’t dancing, they refreshingly responded to the performance with fair cheering; only a few boos emanated from the drunken-frat-boy section … er, from the bar.
Still, both the applauders and dissenters were outnumbered by the perplexed, frightened 16-year-olds dressed like Gwen Stefani who simply didn’t know what to think.
Speaking of Ms. Stefani, she made that transition from feisty punk chick to funky pop diva pretty abruptly, didn’t she? Stalking out onstage to the dancehall bump of “Hella Good” and looking like Blonde Ambition-era Madonna, she worked the crowd with a remarkable vigor herself, switching from karate kicks to jackknife thrusts and back in the first 30 seconds.
Bassist Tony Kanal got hyper on the pogo-inducing “Sunday Morning,” and the four piece (supplemented by two Jamaican percussionists) worked out a decent live recreation of their very studio-centric work.
But things lagged as their performance wore on. The cutesy ’80s pop of “Detective” gave way to the brooding emotional dirge of “Simple Kind Of Life.” And extending the already extended reggae of “Rock Steady” did not make for a great encore.
Add on to that a few points where we’re just freakin’ unsure what to make of the band anymore. For example, as she milks her current hoochie image and persona, are we really supposed to take Gwen seriously as she sings about female oppression and stereotypes in “Just A Girl?” “Guess I’m some kind of freak / cause they all sit and stare with their eyes.” Uh-huh. Perhaps, like Maddy, she’s using the image to make some kind of socio-political statement. Perhaps.
But then, there were moments like the exuberant closer “Spiderwebs” that reminded us why No Doubt is still a great band.
In the midst of the song’s breakdown, Gwen pulled a fan onstage to show off her Tragic Kingdom tattoo and receive a hug. Excitedly imploring of her bassist “Hey Tony, did you see this girl’s tattoo?”, the pop diva seemed down-to-earth for just a moment. Then the group slammed back into the finale, creating as much of a fever pitch of energy as The Faint exhibited throughout their set.
Hey, maybe that’s the connection.
John Vettese can be reached at email@example.com