Midway through a sold-out
show at the UIC Pavilion Saturday night, Avril Lavigne played a spirited
cover of Green Day's "Basketcase."
A comparison between the two pop-punk acts is revealing.
Lavigne was a typical angst-ridden teenager who burst out of nowhere
(literally: Napanee is a small town in Ontario with a population of 5,000)
to blossom into an expertly marketed, largely manufactured chart-topping pop
phenomenon well on her way to displacing Britney Spears and Christina
Green Day was a long-running garage band from Berkeley, Calif., that
recorded several independent albums and crisscrossed the country in a van on
countless tours before signing to a major label and scoring a left-field hit
with "Basketcase" in 1994.
According to the standards employed in the punk-rock underground and
adopted by many critics, one of these acts is "real" and one is "phony." But
while the differences are interesting to note, in the end they don't matter
The show that Lavigne performed here on her first wide-scale tour was as
musically accomplished, emotionally rousing and satisfying overall as any
I've seen by Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41 or any of their "more authentic"
Or, to put it in terms that might be clearer to the crowd of young "avrilutionaries"
who dressed like their heroine in skinny ties, tank tops and olive combat
fatigues: Lavigne rocked my world.
The young singer eschewed the useless showbiz trappings that have become
common at teen-pop shows. There were no fireworks, no costumes were changed
and nobody flew on a guide wire over the heads of the crowd.
Instead Lavigne fronted a spare but solid bass, drums and two guitars
backing band and made do with a couple of video screens, one of which
flashed her core message of rebellion--"Try to shut me up"--just before she
launched into her 70-minute set.
The focus was on the music: simple, insanely catchy guitar-driven anthems
that contemplated young love ("Sk8er Boi," "I'm With You") and asserted the
independence and individuality of Avril and her audience ("Anything But
Ordinary" and the massive hit "Complicated," during which the star pulled
two fans from the crowd to sing along in a democratic show of rock 'n' roll
Lavigne has much to learn about arena rock. Except for when she was
pogoing in place, she moved about the stage awkwardly, and her heavily
accented between-song banter was almost entirely unintelligible. (Canada and
the United States would seem to be two countries separated by a common
language, as the old joke goes.)
None of that mattered either, because Lavigne delivered the goods,
belting out her signature ditties in a booming, brassy voice that belied her
Her singing was nothing special--she gave us nothing that couldn't have
been heard from two dozen other young women who fronted garage bands in
clubs throughout the Chicago area Saturday night--but that was also part of
Rock is the ultimate democratic art form--anybody can do it, so long as
they have the passion and the attitude--and those qualities were on display
in abundance, in turn inspiring the waves of adulation (and perhaps the
pop-star dreams) of her prepubescent audience.
Notice that I said "rock" and not "pop." Like her labelmate Pink (whose
success was also engineered by Arista label head Antonio "L.A." Reid),
Lavigne has achieved pop stardom (with all of the attendant hype, hoopla and
absurdly expensive posters and T-shirts) without compromising rock's
essential values. She may be happy to be moving units and merchandise, but
you never feel as if that's her only reason for being--something that could
never be said of the chart-topping teen acts who preceded her.
If only a handful of the fans at the Pavilion are prompted to dig
deeper--to follow the trail from Green Day to the Ramones, to start seeing
local punk bands at Fireside Bowl, and to figure out who the heck the Sex
Pistols and David Bowie were (something Lavigne hasn't bothered with)--than
she will have accomplished something noble.
Death to Christina, Britney and teen-pop! Long live Avril Lavigne, and
long live rock--even if it is of the prefab mall-bought variety.