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As the sun set over the Harvard Athletic Complex, crowds flocked to the Delta Air Lines Blue Stage to witness the Boston Calling debut of pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne.
Following an audience-led sing-along to “Dear Maria, Count Me In,” an anxious quiet fell over the crowd. The anticipation built as Lavigne’s logo popped up on screen and the band walked on stage. Both the logo and the silence shattered when Lavigne’s shout of “Hey you” rang out as she opened the set with an energetic rendition of “Bite Me.”
The singer’s set served as a time capsule that preserved the style, sound, and energy of the mid-2000’s emo punk scene. Lavigne’s band sported matching blazers paired with spiked jewelry and early ’00s fringe and mohawks. It was a crew that wouldn’t have looked out of place as the emo friend group in a high school romcom. The squad was completed as Lavigne took the stage. Sporting platinum blonde hair with neon pink ends and heavy smudged eyeliner, the singer channeled the classic ’00s emo aesthetic that she helped to establish.
Lavigne comes to Boston Calling as a leader of the pop-punk renaissance. Fueled by the success of songs like Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 You” and Machine Gun Kelly’s “my ex’s best friend,” the genre has made an emphatic return to the mainstream. While Lavigne’s 2019 song “Head Above Water” received mixed reviews from audiences and critics, February’s “Love Sux” has been applauded as a return to form for the artist widely considered to be rock royalty. The warm reception was evident among attendees who sang along to new tracks like “Bite Me” and “Love it When You Hate Me.”
“This song goes out to anyone who's been around since day one,” said Lavigne while introducing “Complicated.” Released in 2002 as her first entry to the music industry, the song today represents a celebration of Lavigne's 20 year career. The track seemed fresh as ever as the entire crowd — an eclectic mix of 20-somethings and middle aged rock dads — sang along to every word.
The set benefitted significantly from Lavigne's lengthy career, over which she has built up an impressive collection of Top 40 earworms. With the performance coming in at just under an hour, it was a non-stop showcase of Avril Lavigne’s greatest hits. From the rebellious teen perspective of “What the Hell” to the spiteful “Sk8er Boi,” the crowd rode the wave of nostalgia as they jumped, danced, and sang along.
The highlight of the show was Lavigne’s performance of “Girlfriend.” From the high energy chorus to the rhythmic breakdown on the bridge, the song showcased Lavigne in her element. In the loudest festival moment yet, the crowd screamed out “hell yeah, I’m the motherfucking princess” while pointing to the artist on stage.
Audience members were treated with a surprise appearance by MOD SUN, who Lavigne brought out as a special guest midway through the performance. Together the duo performed “Flames”, an angst filled duet featuring Lavigne from MOD SUN’s 2021 album “Internet Killed the Rockstar.” In a set that at times lacked energy, MOD SUN injected the audience with some much needed exuberance.
While the hour-long journey into the past left the audience pondering who and where they were when these songs were released, outdated references and resurfaced high school memories weren’t the only reasons to cringe. Lavigne continues to use a remixed version of her song “Hello Kitty” as she transitioned between parts of the set. The song, as well as its accompanying music video, faced backlash when released for appropriating and objectifying Japanese culture. With Hello Kitty artwork stylized in her signature pop-punk aesthetic flashing on the screen behind the stage, the track continues to feel inappropriate and out of place nearly a decade after the song's 2013 release.
Lavigne closed out the show by slowing it down and showing off her vocal strength through a performance of “I’m With You.” After a lengthy applause full of cheers and shouts, the audience filed out, heading back to the main stage for the final performance of the night. As Greenday’s “Basket Case” played over the speakers, the audience sang along as they left, not quite ready to leave the past behind.
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