"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
"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.