Imperfectly Ashlee


March 5, 2005


"I've had a tough year," Ashlee Simpson bemoaned three songs into her 75-minute set at the Rosemont Theatre on Sunday night. "But I've learned a lot of lessons, and the most important is that I don't have to be perfect."

Don't you worry about it, sweetie: "Perfect" is the last word I'd use to describe your performance.

Simpson's self-pitying monologue -- must be tough being a 20-year-old millionaire pop princess, eh? -- preceded a song called "Love Me for Me," from her triple-platinum 2004 debut, "Autobiography." Like many of her well-crafted, mildly rocking pop confections, it offered an inspiring message to the mostly female and prepubescent audience that filled the Rosemont Theatre.

"Here I am/As perfect as I'm ever gonna be," Simpson warbled. "You'll see/Love me for me."

Simpson should be applauded for her simplistic themes of self-respect, self-empowerment and individuality, which make her part of the new wave of teen queens providing a welcome alternative to the "I'm a Slave 4 U" submission and fashion-damaged superficiality of the dethroned Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

But the Texas-bred dynastic diva fell far short of fellow teen-pop riot grrrls such as Avril Lavigne and Hilary Duff with a contrived stage show that found her performing in front of a giant picture of her own face, flashing clips from her MTV reality show and changing into six different designer outfits that simulated the sort of stuff a real rocker would find at a thrift store.

Putting her "Saturday Night Live" fiasco behind her, Simpson relied on vocal help from keyboardist Lucy Walsh and eschewed taped backing tracks. It was easy to tell, because no tape would ever have presented such a stilted and limited voice.

The star fared all right when shouting out the more rollicking numbers, including "Autobiography," "La La" and "Pieces of Me." But a three-song acoustic miniset was absolutely dreadful, and nothing could save the would-be emotional ballad "Shadow," her confession about how hard it is to be Jessica's younger sister. (You had to love the video where her frustrations mount until she tosses a bowl of Froot Loops, though.)

As for her medley of covers by the Pretenders, Blondie and Madonna, you'd think that Simpson could have passably mimicked at least one of those diverse vocalists. But if her fans had any point of comparison, they'd have booed louder than that hostile crowd at the Orange Bowl; it's a good thing for Ashlee that most of them were born 15 years after "Brass in Pocket," "Call Me" and "Burning Up" hit the charts.

Despite these complaints, Simpson is filling a necessary role on the current pop scene. Of course she's contrived, commercial and one-dimensional; bubble-gum pop usually is. At least she's offering a model of a young woman who stands up for herself and aspires to be something other than a dancer at the Admiral Theatre.

With luck, her fans will carry that message with them once they hit puberty, and they'll seek out female artists who not only deliver those words, but mean them. By then, Simpson's career will have long since devolved into a guest slot on VH1's "The Surreal Life." But she'll have done us all a service.

Opening the show were two corporately concocted quintets that put a male spin on the new shopping-mall-punk teen-pop sounds.

Five grads from Boston's Berklee School of Music, the Click Five wore skinny ties and matching black suits and peddled what they bill as "new school power pop." But they were no Romantics, and their best song, a cover of "I Think We're Alone Now," was an anemic clone of the none-too-gutsy original by Tommy James and the Shondells.

Sandwiched in the middle of the bill and hailing from Philadelphia, Pepper's Ghost was a modern twentysomething version of the generic rock band Stillwater in Cameron Crowe's film "Almost Famous." There wasn't a '70s cliche left untried, but the boys had studied their Rolling Stones videos, and I'll take them shaking their moneymakers over the Black Crowes any day.