All the young girls screamed when Avril Lavigne took the Patriot Center stage on Tuesday. It was a painful noise but an important one, too: Boy bands and uncaged mice can be counted upon to elicit such upper-strata yelping from this demographic, but not female rockers.
Lavigne, 20, is still marketed as a street tough. The logo for her current tour shows a fist smashing through a wall, and shots of her punching mirrors ran on the video screens that hung from the arena's ceiling. That marketing informs the dress code of her teenage following -- sleeveless T-shirts over multiple spaghetti straps seemed to be the most popular uniform.
But Lavigne appears ready to soften her image. Her hair is now blond and quite long, and she acknowledged the screaming fans up front not by flashing the devil-horns salute but with a totally girlie fingers-only wave. And Lavigne's material -- she takes co-credit for writing -- conveys far more hope than anger. Her songs give this constituency power at an important time in their lives. For example, the power to be the dumper, not the dumpee ("Together"). Or, the power to control the pace of a relationship ("Don't Tell Me"), even when the lads are pressuring 'em to "go all the way."
The show faltered only when Lavigne, who claimed to be working on an hour's sleep, tried to rock too hard. "Unwanted" came off as a Linkin Park B-side. And when Lavigne got behind the drum kit and had opening act Butch Walker take the microphone for a version of Blur's can't-miss crowd-pleaser "Song 2," she somehow missed. As she introduced "Mobile" as a song about the drag of being in high demand after getting "my record deal," no youngsters nodded their heads in empathy. But when she broke into the advice pop of "Complicated," all heads were nodding, banging even.
-- Dave McKenna