Demurely clad in a simple yellow T-shirt and black bondage pants, Avril Lavigne didn’t need to frolic about in choreographed routines to impress her minions.
A simple rock show, devoid of flash and fancy moves, demonstrated her back-to-basics intentions, and the audience, composed mostly of straight-haired teenage girls at their very first concert (with chaperones, of course), responded like it was watching the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964.
“I touched her hand, the one with the blue wristband!” gushed Madison, 10, from Toronto. It wasn’t the last time she and the dozens like her rushed down the aisle for a closer glimpse whenever Lavigne drew near.
Thousands of “Avrilutionaries” flooded Toronto’s Air Canada Centre for the kickoff of Lavigne’s first North American headlining tour Wednesday, and if the term coined by the Web site www.avrilution.com holds any relevance as a revolt against pop’s old guards Britney, Christina and their dance pop ilk, the teenage rocker staged a successful pop overthrow.
Lavigne wasted no time in giving her fans her signature “Sk8er Boi,” off her five-times platinum debut, Let Go, and jumped right into the hip-hop inspired “Nobody’s Fool” without so much as a “Hello, Toronto.” Instead, she leapt onto the shoulders of someone standing in front of the stage for a much more personal greeting to those in the first few rows.
Strapped with an acoustic guitar for the first of what would be several times in the set, Lavigne strummed her way through “Mobile” with surprising capability. If previous performances were marred by criticism that she sang/shouted off-key and used the guitar as a credibility crutch, the pint-sized dynamo has since remedied the situation.
Even her stage presence showed improvement as she played around Matthew Brann’s drum riser for her definitive tune “Anything but Ordinary.” Later, she sat cross-legged on the riser, accompanied by guitarist Jesse Colburn, for a somber rendition of the wistful ballad “I’m With You.” Apparently, holding lighters aloft isn’t as common practice as it once was – at least not when your parents are around.
It wasn’t all straight-laced performances, however. A newfound showmanship emerged when she invited two fans, 21-year-old Ryan and 12-year-old Courtney, to assist on her breakthrough single, “Complicated.” Courtney, for the record, rocked, but why the uninformed Ryan even volunteered remains a mystery. A note-for-note homage to the punk rock Avril was reared on, Green Day’s “Basket Case,” also brought some fun to an otherwise stiff set.
A two-song encore capped the show, with “Things I’ll Never Say” drawing more than a few “oh, my”s from parents shocked at the pregnant pauses within the love song’s lines “I want to blow you… away” and “I want to see you go down… on one knee.” In reaction, many fans responded with an even louder sing-along, much to the dismay of their blushing chaperones, an example of rebellion in its most sterile form.
Cynics disgusted with Lavigne’s music and choice to dress in bondage pants, blue-collar Ts (Napanee Hardware shirts were popular among the crowd) and wristbands (she’s long since ditched the necktie) need to lighten up. To her fans, whose average age at this show had to be about 14, Lavigne serves as a role model and welcome diversion from growing up on a diet of the dance pop so prolific in the last few years. After all, does it really matter if she didn’t know David Bowie when, were it not for the media scalping that followed, so many of her young fans wouldn’t either?
Fellow countrymen Gob were surprisingly well received for an opening band. Sure, their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” probably appealed to the parents more than their kids, but songs from the quartet’s latest album, Foot in Mouth Disease, such as “Oh! Ellin,” and the first single, “Give Up the Grudge,” got the crowd bouncing.