As the sun set over the Harvard Sports Complex, crowds gathered on the Delta Air Lines Blue Stage to witness the Boston Calling debut of pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne.
After a crowd-driven song to “Dear Maria, Count Me In,” an anxious silence descended on the crowd. Anticipation built as Lavigne’s logo appeared on screen and the band took the stage. The logo and silence broke when Lavigne’s “Hey you” shout 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-2000s emo punk scene. Lavigne’s band sported matching blazers paired with spiked jewelry and fringe and early 2000s mohawks. It was a team that wouldn’t have felt out of place as a bunch of emo friends in a high school rom-com. The team was completed when Lavigne took the stage. Sporting platinum blonde hair with neon pink ends and smudged eyeliner, the singer channeled the classic 2000s emo aesthetic she helped establish.
Lavigne comes to Boston Calling as the leader of the pop-punk revival. 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 a resounding return to the mainstream. While Lavigne’s 2019 song “Head Above Water” received mixed reviews from audiences and critics, February’s “Love Sux” was applauded as a comeback for the artist widely considered rock royalty. The warm reception was evident among attendees who sang new tracks like “Bite Me” and “Love it When You Hate Me.”
“This song is for everyone who’s been around since day one,” Lavigne said of introducing “Complicated.” Released in 2002 as her first entry into the music industry, the song today represents a celebration of Lavigne’s 20-year career. The track sounded fresher than ever as the entire crowd — an eclectic mix of 20-somethings and middle-aged rock dads — sang along with every word.
The set benefited greatly from Lavigne’s long career, during which she built up an impressive collection of Top 40 earworms. With a performance lasting just under an hour, it was a showcase non-stop of Avril Lavigne’s greatest hits. From the rebellious teenage perspective of “What the Hell” to the villainous “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 presented Lavigne in her element. In the loudest moment of the festival yet, the crowd shouted “yeah, I’m the fucking princess” while pointing to the performer on stage.
Audience members were treated to a surprise appearance from MOD SUN, who Lavigne introduced 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 sometimes lacked energy, MOD SUN infused the audience with some much-needed exuberance.
While the hour-long trip down memory lane left audiences wondering who and where they were when these songs were released, outdated references and resurrected 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, along with the accompanying music video, faced backlash upon release for appropriating and objectifying Japanese culture. With the 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 was released in 2013.
Lavigne closed the show by slowing it down and showing off her vocal strength through a performance of “I’m With You.” After a long applause full of cheers and shouts, the audience exited, returning to the main stage for the last performance of the evening. As Greenday’s “Basket Case” played over the speakers, the audience sang along as they left, not quite ready to put the past behind them.