- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

No Doubt, the Southern California superstars who breathed fresh air into modern-rock radio in the ‘90s, celebrates its last decade-plus as recording artists with a solid retrospective, “The Singles 1992-2003.” The band performs tomorrow night at Nissan Pavilion with power-pop punksters Blink-182 opening.

Among the chart toppers, the disc also includes the band’s newest single, a cover of Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life,” and “Trapped in a Box,” an early No Doubt song from the band’s eponymous first album.

The disc got little attention when it was released in 1992. Frustrated, founding member and main songwriter (including “Trapped”) Eric Stefani left the group. Soon after, bassist Tony Kanal and singer Gwen Stefani ended their seven-year-long relationship, and No Doubt nearly dissolved as well. In 2002, Miss Stefani married Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of the band Bush.

It’s been said that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Or pain makes for great art. Whatever the cliche, the quartet — Miss Stefani, Mr. Kanal, drummer Adrian Young and guitarist Tom Dumont — kept pushing on stage and in the studio, trying to live up to their name.

It took three years, but 1995’s “Tragic Kingdom” was right on time. Its debut single, “Just a Girl,” pounced on the music charts thanks to a catchy ska-pop hook and an irresistible messenger of “girl power” in Miss Stefani. “Don’t Speak,” a poignant breakup song for the heartsick everywhere, came soon after with a video that pointedly addressed the conflict between the band and Miss Stefani’s camera magnetism.

“Return of Saturn,” the follow-up album to “Tragic Kingdom,” found the band trying to regain its footing in terms of its music and its newfound success. It found it in the next album, last year’s aptly titled “Rock Steady.”

Years of sweating it out on stage have solidified its reputation as a great live band. For fans who’ve followed No Doubt — and, in turn, tracked the beatings of Miss Stefani’s heart-on-her-sleeve lyrics — this tour should remind them of everything they love. Newer fans will enjoy tracking the music’s evolution and its influences, from the jumpy ska-punk mosh of “Spiderwebs” to the bouncy new-wave surf of “Ex-Girlfriend” to the soft reggae sway of “Underneath it All.”

Even though there are rumors of the band’s taking a break to deal with life — marriages, babies, side projects — its members still insist it may be a while, but there is definitely more to come. No doubt.

• • •

With a mouthful of a name like Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong, it is no wonder singer Dido chose to simplify. Musically, she goes for the “less is more” approach as well, a welcome taste of restraint in today’s world of “VH1 Divas” chart dominance.

British-born Dido’s debut album, “No Angel,” arrived on our shores in 1999 and sold more than 1 million copies even before Eminem hijacked six lines and a haunting hook from “Thank You” for his smash crossover single “Stan.”

When the curious went looking for the source, Dido, who had already spent more than a year promoting “No Angel,” smartly continued touring. By the time she stopped, her album had sold more than 12 million copies, making it Britain’s most successful debut by a solo female artist.

“Don’t mess with success” seems to be the credo for her sophomore effort, “Life For Rent,” which entered the charts at No. 4 in September. Fluid, downbeat tracks provide a soft bed for Dido’s honest lyrics and heartfelt, if a little soulless, delivery.

The first single, “White Flag”; the title track; and the current release, “Don’t Leave Home,” haven’t risen as high or as fast as “Thank You,” but they’ve all been warmly received by radio and fans.

For her current tour, which stops at DAR Constitution Hall on Saturday, the simple style extends to her stage show as well. No fancy costumes, choreography or special effects — but she seems so happy to be on stage that none is really needed. Her smile is nearly as wide as her guitar when she sings, and her ordinary-girl-ness defies affectations.

“For me, it’s about the little things, the detail,” she says in her official bio. “Always has been, always will be. As in life, I concentrate on that, leaving the big stuff to just take care of itself.”

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