It’s hard to get too outraged about teen idol lip-synching these days: For performers such as Lindsay Lohan and Ashlee Simpson, concerts and recordings are more brand extensions than artistic endeavors — “what I did on my summer hiatus.” But nobody likes to be fooled, especially in public, so Ashlee Simpson’s recent “Saturday Night Live” appearance, where the pre-recorded vocals for the wrong song were played, became fodder for fulminating gossip pages and op-ed columns.
Yet her prepubescent fans shrugged and continued to buy the album: Simpson’s Geffen debut, “Autobiography,” has gone double platinum with no signs of slowing down. But for those old enough to get into an R-rated movie under their own steam, Simpson’s appearance Monday at the El Rey (simulcast on AOL) may have been the first time they could ask “Are they real?” and not be branded a dirty old man.
The show was obviously meant to do double duty — to prove that Simpson does her own vocals and to preview her tour, scheduled to start early next year. For the record, it was her voice, not a recording, but you have to wonder why she bothered. Yes, her appeal is predicated on her being more “real” than other teen singers (including her sister, Jessica): Raven-haired and dressed in an accessible sweater and pants outfit, she is a Skipper among the Barbies and Kens on the pop charts. But for someone who declares her album an “Autobiography,” writes songs that are “Pieces of Me” and demands that you “Love Me for Me,” her voice has little personality.
Her half-hour perf could have been delivered by just about anyone. The songs may be darker than most teen fodder: “Shadow,” about being Jessica’s younger sister, describes “living a broken life I couldn’t wish away,” while “La La” admits to liking it “better when it hurts,” but Simpson chirps them as though they were perky, Up With People anthems. Rarely on key and prone to forgetting her lyrics, Simpson delivered her most interesting moments during “Surrender,” when she became winded, started talking through the chorus and then lost her place in the song.
But this mattered little to the tyro aud, who screamed and waved their hands on cue. The young girl pulled onstage for “Pieces of Me” was on the verge of hyperventilating as she skipped to the song’s bouncy nursery rhyme verse. They really didn’t care if they were hearing Simpson’s voice or Memorex; for them, the night was less a concert than a personal appearance. But even given that low standard, Simpson fell short.