Venue: O2 Arena, London
Reviewer: Phil W
Ahead of me, the darkened concrete tunnel was bathed in luminous pink lighting. I could hear screaming from up ahead of me, the sound of thousands of young voices crying out. The tunnel rounded a corner; I could see now where it led. It was dark in there, bodies moved and mingled back and forth in a vast, cavernous pit. The sloped walls of the pit moved and surged, lights of green and pink and blue flickered and waved among them. The high pitched screams were everywhere, from every direction. There was something insane going on, something huge.
On the stage, four boys pretended to play guitar while bathed in white floodlights. Behind them, a complete second band backed them. They had no spotlights. I particularly liked the big, overweight dude playing guitar just off to stage right. In the shadows he pulled off some nifty guitar licks and - after the boys left the stage - he stuck around to help out packing away all their stuff for them! What a helpful chap! I only caught the last two songs of the set; an insider had already told me it wasn’t worth catching all their set! They had a name and they have CD’s out there somewhere, but they where pretty missable boy band fodder. Kind of an American McFly. Nothing to bother going into the details of on this blog.
Avril Lavigne. Her first single came out when she was just 17 and the whole world bought into it. Her second album sold on the back of a single about saying No to giving in to sex too soon. Yes, Avril was the anti-Britney in a world where pop starlets were going head-to-head to see both how little they could wear on stage and how many sexual innuendoes they could fit into every song lyric. While Britney was sweating and moaning in a sauna, Christina was releasing albums called Stripped with singles called Dirrrty, and Flick from Neighbours was appearing in music videos completely starkers, Avril had class. She wasn’t naked and she was telling the girls to say No.
Jump to the present and little has changed. Lead single Girlfriend from new album The Best Darn Thing is playful, more giggles from the back row of the school bus than Debbie Does Dallas. Avril says at 23 she wanted to make one last fun record about being young and innocent before she thought about doing something more serious with the next one. There’s even a song on the record called Innocence. And so, from the centre of a stage bathed in pink flood lights, rising through the floor to the stomp of the opening thump of Girlfriend, is the elfin figure of Avril Lavigne, wearing skater shorts, hoodie and a huge grin. She charges down a catwalk that slices through the middle of the pit; “are you ready to have a good time?” she cries out to the audience. The audience explodes in a ludicrous frenzy of youthful enthusiasm and suddenly I’ve a huge grin on my face that won’t budge for the next hour and a half. Five minutes ago I’d been certain I’d come to the wrong gig - but now I was reminded of the immortal words of the late great Hunter Thompson; “buy the ticket, take the ride!” And this was one hell of a ride!
Over the course of the evening Avril played all the hits from all three records. Some she sung while bouncing around the stage beaming enthusiastically at the audience. For several she played her Telecaster Special. There was an interlude midway through the set in which she played a brief acoustic set, slumped over an electro-acoustic guitar, flanked either side by her two session guitarists. Cynically, it was fairly obvious at times her guitar was turned way down, but like, dude, who cares man? She’s really trying! She doesn’t have to put this much effort into her live set but she does! Later on a huge, pink grand piano is wheeled onstage and to our surprise Avril takes a seat behind it to play Innocence from the new album. And if anyone in the audience still doubted her musical abilities, toward the end of the set a pink, sparkly drum kit was brought on stage and Avril beat the skins to a rendition of Runaway, singing and drumming simultaneously. And, like, dude, it was awesome! I’ve always been impressed with multi-instrumental performers, but I wasn’t expecting Avril to be one of them!
Avril finished with He Wasn’t and then an encore of Sk8er Boi. She finished her set having sung, rapped, danced, played guitars, pianos and drum kits, and done it all without a hint of irony or snobbery or any of the other things that bog down far more credible artists. The whole thing just seemed like a lot of fun and she performed it all effortlessly and with enthusiasm. There were no signs of any backing tracks either. All the way through there was a full band backing her. Her vocals were sometimes note perfect - she has a very gifted voice - but sometimes they were off key and muddled, sometimes almost spoken, with all the swear words extenuated. But far from this being a problem this merely highlighted her live, raw vocals and, well, made it that much more punk, you know in a pink teen pop kind of way! The gig hardly had the indie credibility of Kaki King, but like Avril’s albums, it was a guilty pleaser, like admitting you quite enjoyed watching Never Been Kissed. You didn’t expect it to win an Oscar, and yes it was a bit girly - but, you know, you smiled when the dude popped up at the end of the movie to give her that first kiss, I know you did*! So, buy the ticket, take the ride, and just don’t bother over thinking the whole thing. You’ll love it!
* How well you know me, Phil! :-D MMT.