Aretha Franklin Dies

CSU Convocation Center, Cleveland

Skater boys weren't anywhere near the stateside debut of Avril Lavigne's Try to Shut Me Up tour April 15 at the CSU Convocation Center.

Skater boys weren't anywhere near the stateside debut of Avril Lavigne's Try to Shut Me Up tour April 15 at the CSU Convocation Center.

But their younger sisters (and soccer moms) were present and accounted for in large numbers at the anti-Britney/ reigning pop-rock queen's fist-pumping, sold-out sing-along.

From the start, two things were apparent: Lavigne doesn't feel comfortable in her own skin (her audience could relate), and she is still maturing as a live artist (her audience couldn't care less). The predominantly sedentary singer was even outmaneuvered by two enthusiastic fans brought onstage during her hit "Complicated."

Relying heavily on her obvious vocal skills to compensate for any lack of gripping lead singer presence, Canada's biggest export since Alanis Morissette offered a 70-minute set that was met with teenage hysteria not heard since the early days of 'N Sync.

Dressed in black denim pants, a flannel T-shirt (white undershirt showing), wristbands, and a studded belt, Lavigne kicked off the show with the bouncy "Sk8er Boi" and the pseudo-hip-hop "Nobody's Fool" in quick procession, setting the tone for the rapid-fire 15-song set.

The diminutive singer offered her entire Arista debut disc Let Go, which has been on The Billboard 200 for more than 40 weeks, as well as the B-side "I Don't Give a Damn" and a surprise cover of Green Day's "Basket Case."

The latter track had a mixed reaction: The minority who were familiar with the cut enjoyed the power-punk value, while those too young to know better wondered why she hadn't played "Complicated" yet.

From a musical standpoint, Lavigne's band did a few interesting things, including the addition of a bluesy/wah-wah guitar display during "Complicated" and choppy, borderline disturbed riffs heard on "Losing Grip."

The amusing aspect of Lavigne's songs is that while such pop hits as "Complicated" and "I'm With You" are innocuously embraceable, the majority of her material is rooted in a darker place, just under the surface where teenage angst ("Losing Grip") and cruel lessons in love ("Unwanted") are truly complicated issues.

Perhaps it's a good thing that the 18-year-old's show was marred by a muddy mix and heavy-handed drums, with only the acoustic encore of "Tomorrow" accurately matching Lavigne's strong album vocal talents.

Despite her best punk frown and Vans Warped tour posturing, she's still pop/rock candy to her prepubescent minions, the majority of whom appeared to be seeing their first concert with a young-at-heart mom in tow.

Or at least that's what their wide-eyed stares and Beatlemania screams would suggest.—JB