A seemingly endless stream of girls wearing baggy pants, tank tops and loosely knotted neckties spilled into the lobby of Veterans’ Memorial. If one wasn’t dressed like her tomboy heroine Avril Lavigne, she compensated for it by making sweet-but-tough faces, whether she was six or sixteen.
But for the twenty-odd minutes that the house lights threatened to dim inside the auditorium, any attitude, real or feigned, gave way to absolute giddiness. Every time a roadie came on stage to tune an instrument, the audience started shrieking, just in case Lavigne might appear behind them. Some even ran to the stage to shake the hands of road crew members, and then bounded back to their seats squealing, “he held my hand!”
My nine-year-old companion, Brittany Johnson, who was nonplussed compared to the rest of the crowd, imparted some pop music wisdom to me while we waited.
“When a girl plays, the audience is mostly girls,” she said. “And when boy bands play, who’s in the audience? Still girls.”
But unlike contemporaries she is constantly contrasted with (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera), Lavigne seems to appeal to junior high school-aged girls who want to be and look interesting more than they want to be and look popular. She’s the patron teen diva of art students, wallflowers and odd girls out, not cheerleaders and prom queens.
When Lavigne and her band of “sk8er” boys finally made it to the stage (sans a necktie, which she stopped wearing once she saw girls imitating her), the sell-out crowd’s screams nearly drowned out the guitar riffs. Standing at approximately five foot nothing, the 17-year-old Canadian belted out her edgy, hook-filled pop songs in a full and beautiful voice, sometimes bouncing to the beat while she sang, sometimes playing her guitar.
Early in the show, she dropped herself into the crowd and let a couple of star struck girls help her sing the words “I’d rather be anything but ordinary, please.” At other points, she pleaded for the house lights to be turned up so she could see her fans and tell them they were beautiful.
The set was a quick 45 minutes – basically the same length as Lavigne’s debut record, “Let Go,” which has yielded five Grammy nominations. But that’s all the crowd was looking for, as singing along with the songs seemed to be the order of the evening. During hits like “Complicated,” so many people were singing along, it sounded like Lavigne was getting extra musical accompaniment from the high-pitched chorus of the Peanuts gang.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Columbus Dispatch in January, 2003.
These stories are © Tracy Zollinger Turner, and cannot be reprinted without her express, written permission