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Concert review: Avril Lavigne at the Bell Centre; Oct. 25, 2011

Concert review: Avril Lavigne at the Bell Centre; Oct. 25, 2011

Photo by John Kenney/ The Gazette. See John’s photo gallery from the concert here.

What rock n’ roll show starts off with a song selling perfume?

Avril Lavigne’s first fragrance was Black Star, and the throwaway ditty that ushered it onto the marketplace was the underwhelming kickoff for the final show of her Black Star Tour at the Bell Centre Tuesday night. “A rock star, rock star you will always be,” the girl from Napanee, Ont., sang to an audience of 5,400 fans – mostly girls in their teens and 20s, patches of them waving green glow sticks. Ol’ raccoon eyes was back.

But no real rock star – even one bearing a tattoo with an unprintable word on the left side of her rib cage – starts off with a word from her sponsor. Those who have always suspected that Lavigne is a triumph more of marketing than of musical worth would most likely not have been convinced otherwise at Tuesday’s show.

Lavigne remains, at best, an ersatz rocker, a power-pop icon imparting to teenyboppers of all ages the admittedly admirable message that young women should be as powerful and assertive as they want to be. But unfortunately, she mostly does it via generic rockers like He Wasn’t and big hit Sk8er Boi, played early in her 90-minute set, and forgettable-as-they-come ballads like I Love You, a recent song oddly placed in the middle of the encores. As for the lyrics, the less said, the better.

When you can’t get a crowd in such a youthful demographic out of the seats, something is wrong. The standing-room audience on the floor had no choice, but it was telling that only intermittent patches of young fans stood up in the arena’s seated sections. In spite of all the fist-raising, classic-rock poses, obligatory singalongs and endless crowd-and-city hyping, this was, ultimately, a strangely lifeless concert. And the unusual lack of a video screen and barely-there staging made everything seem puny.

There were moments. I Always Get What I Want is framed on a driving, irresistible chord run and Lavigne’s powerful waling at the end proved the tour had not taken a toll on her voice. She might not have the songs, but she does have the pipes, showing them off to most impressive effect on Alice. During that song, delivered from atop the piano, she glided forcefully, but gracefully, into a strong falsetto.

And there was something touching and anthemic about the way she turned over the chorus of I’m With You, one of her earliest songs and the last pre-encore selection, to the fans. The audience singalong might be a rock-concert cliche, but the way the crowd threw itself into the “It’s a d a m n cold night” bit and breathed new life into this plea for companionship was undeniably sweet.

The concert could – and probably should – have ended there. The three encores – the pedestrian power ballads Best Years of Our Lives, sung with former guitarist and longstanding friend Evan Taubenfeld, and I Love You, plus show-closer Complicated – seemed anticlimactic.

The uncontrived moment had come and gone.

— Bernard Perusse —