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No bare midriff and no glow sticks

Times Staff Writer

Sk8er Grrrl rules!

Avril Lavigne’s first major tour is more than a concert experience for arenas full of teen and preteen girls. It’s a rite of passage. Say goodbye, everyone, to Britney Spears, teen pop and glow sticks. It’s hello to Lavigne, rock ‘n’ roll and, gulp, Bob Dylan.

You knew that times have changed in the teen music world when Lavigne came on stage Thursday at the Long Beach Arena with a T-shirt and black punkette pants, and went into a straightforward version with her band of the gloriously inviting hit “Sk8er Boi.” In the Britney era, the 18-year-old Canadian singer might have worn a sexy, neo-stripper outfit and raced around the stage amid a battalion of boys going through carefully choreographed skateboard routines.

At first, Lavigne’s understated presentation seemed a limitation. Although she sometimes sprinted around the stage, she mostly stood at the microphone and simply raised a fist in the air occasionally. As the concert unfolded, however, that restraint became a virtue.

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Her manner was one of many things that served to distance Lavigne from all things Britney, Christina Aguilera, ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys.

One reminder that this was rock ‘n’ roll, not synthetic pop, was that all the seats were removed from the arena floor so that fans could press against the stage the way they do at rock shows by U2 and the Rolling Stones. Lavigne even brought along two rock bands as opening acts, one of which (Gob) played the Stones’ “Paint It Black.”

But nothing demonstrated the anti-Britney approach more than the money she gave up at the concession stands by refusing to sell those bright glow sticks that kids waved endlessly during Britney and other teen pop shows in recent years. On Thursday, some of the youngsters, probably graduates of Britney shows, were so anxious to wave something that a few parents handed over their lighted cell phones, which made a nice glow as the kids waved them during softer numbers in the concert.

In fact, the most endearing thing about the evening was watching the wonder of discovery in the audience’s eyes. The same show before an adult audience wouldn’t be nearly as interesting because much of Lavigne’s music is fairly anonymous by rock standards. The exception is four songs from “Let Go,” the debut album that has sold more than 12 million copies around the world. All four were written by Lavigne with the writing-production team known as the Matrix. The catchiest, “Sk8er Boi” and “Complicated,” both warn against false values.

In “Sk8er Boi,” a teen fable blessed with a chorus so exuberant it is worthy of ABBA, a girl rejects a skater boy because her friends don’t think he’s ever going to amount to anything. She then watches regretfully as he becomes a rock star -- the lesson being, the song tells us, it’s what’s inside a person that matters, not his appearance.

During the encore, Lavigne stepped away from her material for a tender version of Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which she recorded for “Peace Songs,” a compilation album to benefit War Child, an organization that aids children in war-torn countries.

It was a long step from Britney’s “Oops! ... I Did It Again,” but the audience seemed to make the journey just fine. Lavigne is going to have to grow as a writer to keep pace with her young audience, but the two seem in perfect step now.


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