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Review: Short but spirited performance by Avril Lavigne during first Victoria concert since 2011

Sold-out concert with 4,400 attending at Victoria's Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
Avril Lavigne performed Wednesday, May 25, 2022 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria. Credit Ryan McFadden

What: Avril Lavigne with Grandson and Mod Sun

Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre

When: Wednesday, May 25

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

What a difference a decade makes.

Avril Lavigne returned to Victoria on Wednesday for a sold-out performance at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, her first show in the city since 2011 and one which had everything working in its favour.

Lavigne is riding a wave of renewed visibility, thanks to a new crop of fans and peers (such as teen star Olivia Rodrigo) who are singing her praises. Her surging popularity was evident at various points Wednesday night, with deafening screams from the 4,400 fans in attendance greeting her Grammy-nominated hit, Complicated. The overwhelming reaction and boisterous sing-a-long made it seem like the song arrived in 2022, not 2002.

The response to Lavigne’s concert may indeed have something to do with the public’s rabid appetite for live performance in 2022, which can’t be discounted. But the arc of Lavigne’s career is undoubtedly cresting upward at the 20-year mark, for reasons above and beyond mere serendipity. That cannot be understated.

She had company on this tour, including her fiancé, Minnesota rocker Mod Sun. He was hugely impressive during his show-opening set, which got underway promptly at 8 p.m., when a good portion of the audience was in line outside. Problems with a new ticket-scanning system delayed entry for some, while those inside were being entertained by what felt like a seasoned pro.

Lavigne was a big focus of Mod Sun’s stage banter, from a song about “the love of my life, someone who everyone in this room knows,” to name-checking her as “the greatest voice of our entire generation.”

While that’s a debatable designation, Lavigne certainly captured the attention of millennials when her debut, Let Go, dropped in 2002. At a time when dance pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were dominating radio, and boy bands like ’NSYNC and Backstreet Boys were selling records by the truckload, Lavigne was an appealing alternative for millions of suburban teens.

She put the pop in pop-punk, but while she wasn’t nearly the hellraiser she imagined herself to be, Lavigne was a juggernaut, indeed. Twenty years removed and still filling arenas — that’s an impressive feat for an artist whose seventh studio album, this year’s Love Sux, has not taken hold with audiences.

Toronto rocker Grandson brought the momentum to a halt when he took over in the second slot, with a darkened stage bathed in magenta-hued lights. On a night when most in the audience (which was heavily populated by women in their 20s) just wanted to dance, his music did not transfer well.

The audience needed 30 minutes to come around, and only did so when he dropped his cover of Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time. His breakout hit, Apologize, slightly improved his standing, though his set didn’t hit with the same impact as either Lavigne or Mod Sun.

Lavigne had a few rough spots as well, mostly in the energy department; she left the stage twice for several minutes, which is unusual, and the main portion of her set was limited to an hour — also odd. Her encore ran for under 20 minutes, making it feel somewhat truncated. The house lights came on 77 minutes after she took the stage, which means, with breaks, she was on stage for about one hour and 10 minutes. Ouch.

Her considerable stage production and deceptively strong catalogue (My Happy Ending and Girlfriend were both uniformly excellent) ultimately carried her through. Who would have guessed that songs she co-wrote when she was 17 would resonate so strongly as she nears 40?