Since marching her petite, angsty, tie-wearing self into the music scene in 2002 with pop/rock anthems like “Complicated” and “Sk8ter Boi,” Canadian singer Avril Lavigne, now 35, has amassed quite the resume – 40 million album sales globally, eight Grammy Award nominations and the first music video (“Girlfriend”) to reach 100 million views on YouTube.
But in 2014, Lavigne’s ever-rising career came to an abrupt halt when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease that December.
“I fought Lyme disease on antibiotics and herbs for two years. I tried to have a life, but was in bed the majority of the time, and it was very up and down with good days and bad days,” she said. “One night, I thought I was dying, and I had accepted that I was going to die. My mom laid with me in bed and held me. I felt like I was drowning. Under my breath, I prayed, ‘God, please help to keep my head above water.’”
That pleading thought became the basis for Lavigne’s first single in five years, “Head Above Water” – a chilling, spiritual track that’s featured on her 2019 album release of the same title.
With regained health, Lavigne hit the road throughout the fall to reunite with fans on the Head Above Water Tour, which hit Parx Casino’s Xcite Center in Bensalem on Friday, Oct. 11.
To see Lavigne live, it’s hard to imagine the battle she endured, which for some time left her weak and severely lacking in muscle mass. For a while, she didn’t even know if she’d sing again. But during her Bucks County appearance, which was the last stop on the tour, Lavigne seemed to be at the top of her game, both physically and vocally.
At almost 9 p.m., after an opening performance by Jaguar Twin, Lavigne made her grand entrance on stage to the cheers of 1,500 fans, who ran the gamut of ages. Wrapped in a billowing white gown, long, blond hair perfectly styled, she began singing “Head Above Water.” Her voice was stronger than it’s ever been, with Lavigne exuding a fresh sense of calm and maturity – a stark contrast from her teenage years.
Though Lavigne is exceptionally proud of her newest album, explaining how “lyrically, I pushed myself to be the best I possibly could,” she tailored the Head Above Water Tour to her longtime fans, crafting a setlist of hits that surely spun in many Walkmans once upon a time.
After a quick wardrobe change into something more comfortable – and black – Lavigne performed three of her top hits back-to-back, “My Happy Ending,” “What the Hell” and “Complicated.” During each, Lavigne was a 5-foot-2 ball of energy, commanding the stage, giggling and giving off her signature carefree vibe.
Lavigne brought things back to 2019 with the inspirational ballad “Warrior,” another ode to her Lyme disease fight, and gave the audience a special treat with a rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway,” which Lavigne wrote.
The night continued with “Keep Holding On,” which was the theme song for the 2006 movie Eragon, and the more mellow “Don’t Tell Me” – a powerful track about the art of saying “no.”
In true Lavigne fashion, the crowd was blinded by a bubblegum pink array of heart-eyed skulls and the face of Hello Kitty as the pop/punk princess chanted “Hey, hey, you, you” – the infectious opening of her 2007 hit “Girlfriend.” She then transitioned into “Dumb Blonde,” a recent collaboration with Nicki Minaj that’s similarly ear worm-inducing.
The show wrapped up with Lavigne’s one-of-many boy-hating songs, “He Wasn’t,” and, of course, “Sk8ter Boi,” which every concert-goer seemed to know each word to.
Following a brief break and shattering chants of “Avril! Avril!,” Lavigne returned for a surprisingly mild encore that consisted of the Head Above Water song “I Fell In Love With the Devil” and “I’m With You,” off her debut album Let Go.
One dollar from each ticket sold at Parx will be donated to The Avril Lavigne Foundation. Since its inception in 2010, the foundation has supported people with Lyme disease, serious illness and disabilities by providing funding, education and encouragement for its beneficiaries.
“We directly impact the lives of individuals and families affected by Lyme through treatment grants administered by our charitable partners, and we’ve recently created an alliance to accelerate scientific research,” Lavigne said. “All proceeds raised through our initiatives enable us to expand the number of lives we’re able to transform.” ••
For more information, visit TheAvrilLavigneFoundation.org
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org