Rexall Place, Edmonton - March 12, 2008

MIKE ROSS - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:53 AM ET

EDMONTON - Avril Lavigne is just asking for it, you know - calling her new tour the "Best Damn Tour."

You could write headlines like "worst damn tour" or note that if she really wanted to play the tough chick, she could've called it the "Best F---ing Tour."

I had the knives out last night, but was sadly disappointed that the show at Rexall Place wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. There is precedent: Last time through town, back in ought-five, Lavigne couldn't rock, couldn't sing and couldn't communicate with an audience.

Last night, the 23-year-old queen of the brats got two out of three right, one and a half, at least. Her vocals have improved tremendously, and with them emerges an ego worthy of any pop diva on the circuit. The show, more than anything, was a celebration of "me, me, me!" Dancing cheerleaders brandishing giant cards that spelled out "AVIL" was a nice touch. Too bad there were only four.

At least there is a clearer picture of the artist dubbed "the anti-Britney," a label that just doesn't stick anymore because Britney herself turns out to be the anti-Britney. No, what several thousand, screaming, pink-festooned, $10 glowstick-waving fans witnessed was a Kreviazukian, Alanisarian teenybop concert splattered with hints of punk rock and even crazy hip-hop flava. It showed an entertainer trying to do it all and succeeding some of the time.

She opened with the upbeat Girlfriend in a flash of light, dancing flag girls and the expected deafening cheers to greet her. Allegedly lifted from a 1979 song called I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, which may in turn have been stolen from the Ramones three years previously - they're all in the same key; coincidence? - this one is about female empowerment. The message: don't let anyone stand in the way of what you want - even if it's someone else's boyfriend. I kept hoping the ugly Betty in the video would get her nerd's revenge by the end, but no such luck. The Avrilicious little tart moves in on the hapless guy with no consequences at all.

Similar themes would prevail throughout the evening. I Always Get What I Want, one of the punkier numbers, was a pure anthem of spoiled rottenness. I Can Do Better represents the other side of the Avrilian muse - the empowered woman scorned, shortly after she discovers the guy she stole in Girlfriend has a tendency to be unfaithful. Like, duh!

Older songs like Complicated threw the newer songs into sharp relief - from her new album, The Best Damn Thing. If anything, they seem to contain more attitude, more ego. This is no surprise.

An inexplicable clot of slow songs in the middle of the show revealed the real surprise - hey, she's learned to sing! Avril tore a page (and more) from Chantal Kreviazuk with a grand piano rendition of When You're Gone, this one suggesting that the woman can't even function in the absence of her better half. So much for female empowerment. Soon after, stools came out for more ballads, including a mangled version of Losing Grip, which she says she wrote when she was 17.

Who is this Avril Lavigne, really? Would she really stoop so low as to steal someone's boyfriend? Is she really as spoiled and self-centred as her songs suggest? Are these sensitive songs an act, or is the tough, faux-punk attitude a front to protect her sensitive side? We may never know.

Playing a "video" of her performance of Joan Jett's Bad Reputation while she changed costumes backstage was telling. It showed all sorts of unpleasant behaviour. Dads, seriously: If your daughters exhibit behaviour depicted in this or especially the Girlfriend video, seek counselling immediately.

Again, Avril picked an opening act of vacuous pretty boys. In '05, it was Butch Walker. Last night, it was Boston-area Boys Like Girls who charmed the audience with harmless power-pop deployed with a giddy energy clearly meant to disguise a complete lack of originality.

They sound like every other skinny-tie power-pop band who deny any connection with punk rock while emulating every possible punk cliche.

Beyond playing terrible, depressingly forgettable songs, crimes included the lead singer urging the crowd to pay tribute to their inevitable power ballad by waving lighted cellphones and glowsticks (a practice I'd like to see stamped out; real rock demands a tribute of real fire), bidding the crowd stand when they hadn't done anything to deserve a standing ovation, and finally ending the set by wiping two T-shirts into his sweaty, greasy hair and hurling them into the throng of eager fans. Like, eww.

Well, you gotta pick an opener that'll make the headliner look good. Job well done, Boys Like Girls.


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