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Location: Avril Lavigne / May 8, 2005 / Johannesburg (Coca-Cola Dome)
May 11, 2005,
Diane Coetzer, Johannesburg
Ahead of a jam-packed world tour, and recently off a six-date Australian outing, Avril Lavigne swept into Johannesburg and found close to 20,000 fans intent on giving her an arms-in-the-air, lighters-out, roaring South African welcome.

Well, just about everyone, that is. Leaving the venue after her roughly 80-minute set, it wasn't hard to see the kiddies who just couldn't make it through the show. And in many ways, the presence of such a large number of children -- some as young as five years old -- is what makes being at a Lavigne show an at times peculiar experience.

Clearly, this is not the Spice Girls or any other act taking aim for such a young market. On stage, Lavigne's attachment to an updated, 21st century-style punk aesthetic is clear to see via the skull and crossbones on her guitar strap, the visuals on the huge flag deployed as her backdrop and the Brit-punk black-and-white motif on her drummer's kit. What's more, Lavigne's considerable ability to punk it out like a veteran after Siouxie Sioux's own heart, was given full vent during many songs in the 19-song set, among them the viscerally performed, attitude-laden "I Always Get."

And yet, as the presence of those sleeping kids and the many pre-tweenies and tweenies hoisted onto their parent's shoulders testifies, Lavigne's music is tailor-made for radio airplay.

So the best moments came not when Lavigne did her punk jumps but rather when she said, "I'm so excited to be here. It's my first time in Africa and last night I went out in your town and had lots of fun ... let's rock." She then launched into a genuinely affecting performance of the acoustic guitar-reliant "I'm With You," a substantial South African radio hit.

Sitting at a piano for "Together," Lavigne was surprisingly catapulted into Tori Amos-like, authentic singer/songwriter territory (and since Lavigne has penned songs for the likes of Kelly Clarkson, perhaps it's an indication of a more focused songwriting direction in the years to come?). "Forgotten" was laced with emotion, her powerful voice back at full strength (the notorious Johannesburg high altitude seemed to have left the singer a little breathless at times).

It was left up to the massive weight of "Sk8er Boi" and "Complicated" to remind everyone why they are here: to see a teenager from the unlikely place of Napanee, Ontario, deliver the spiky pop hits that they all know by heart. And when Lavigne threw in a version of Green Day's "American Idiot" and took to the drums while her guitarist handled vocals on Blur's "Song #2," the fans responded with delight.

There were no big sets here or wardrobe flourishes, and for a crowd starved of high-profile mainstream superstars, the ending came too soon. All that was left was for parents to sweep up their sleeping kids and head home.

Here is Avril Lavigne's set list:

"Losing Grip"
"Happy Ending"
"I Always Get"
"Things I'll"
"I'm With You"
"Who Knows"
"Don't Tell Me"
"Take Me Away"
"He Wasn't"
"American Idiot"
"Nobody's Home"
"Sk8er Boi"
"Song #2"

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