- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

If you closed your eyes Tuesday night, you would have sworn it was 1964 and the Beatles were about to take to their first American stage. The screaming — you would not believe the screaming; it could raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Absolute. Teenage. Mayhem.

It wasn’t the Beatles, though. It wasn’t a band or a musical legend.

It was one young woman, a mere 20 years old, surrounded by media mishaps, who is known as much for her manelike, blond-turned-brown hair as for her top 40 hits. It was Ashlee Simpson — in the flesh and yes, in case you’re wondering, very live.

The deafening screams exploded like a champagne cork as the willowy chanteuse took to the DAR Constitution Hall stage. There were a lot of girls (with a few boys scattered about). A lot of glow sticks. A lot of chunky belts, short skirts, jeans, hoodies, bangs and a whole lot of gum. And they were completely frenzied for their girl.

Say what you will about Miss Simpson, her fan base — mostly teenage and powered by a hit MTV reality show (“The Ashlee Simpson Show”), famous older sister (Jessica Simpson) and a triple-platinum debut album — is fiercely loyal and couldn’t give a straw what her critics think.

Just barely out of teen-hood herself, Miss Simpson hits a nerve with tweens and teens alike, singing about heartbreak, insecurities and an emerging identity. Like falling flat on your face in the cafeteria, she knows how train-wreck teenage embarrassment feels. First there was her October “Saturday Night Live” snafu, in which her backing track for “Pieces of Me” played while her band performed another song.

Months later, she was booed at an Orange Bowl halftime performance.

Miss Simpson definitely has prevailed, though, and watching her strut her stuff in front of a packed venue, all the bad-mouthing and ballyhoo falls by the wayside.

Bursting onstage in low-slung jeans and enough punk couture to make a suburban girl weep, she launched the show with “Autobiography” and navigated through the contents of her album, disappearing during instrumentals for quick costume changes and pausing now and then to introduce her spunky band mates, chat about her new dog and thank her fans for sticking by her.

The Texas native’s made-for-TV voice was cute and raspy, but it was her remarkable and endearing stage presence that really made the show. She worked the crowd like a pro, twirling and snaking her way from one end of the stage to the other, sexy enough to make the crowd roar but harmless enough to reassure any Britney Spears-loathing parent.

The highlight of the performance was a kitschy ‘80s medley featuring the Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket,” Blondie’s “Call Me” and Madonna’s early hit “Burning Up.” Save for “Call Me,” the set was mostly lost on the young crowd, the preponderance of whom were still in diapers when the Material Girl was in her prime.

Miss Simpson, thin legs in V-formation, had the Madonna swagger down pat — you got the feeling she was living out a childhood fantasy and had practiced the routine at least a hundred times in her bedroom.

She kept her euphoric crowd waiting until the end of the show for her rowdy, racy hit “Lala.” The cherry on top was an encore performance of “Pieces of Me.”

No one ever said Miss Simpson was the next Maria Carey. She’s a teenage pop-rocker with a decent voice and a band that looks as if it rolled out of a Blink 182 video. Like Avril Lavigne, she fills a need for teenage girls without prancing around in her underwear. She is who she is, and the kids love it.

Class dismissed.

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