If you read mxdwn regularly, you know there’s nothing we like better than talent that slots into indefinable, unique configurations. The acts and artists that eschew major trends in favor of real credibility are why we lace up our shoes each day and do this. In the swirling maelstrom of everyday popular music, most outlets are lost in a veritable ping pong of fan adulation, starfuckery and big PR manipulation. We’re probably as guilty on some level as anyone else, but wherever we can drop all that nonsense and cut right to the bone of something truly great, that resonates with people, even if it’s not remotely hip, than we know we’re doing our jobs well. Enter tonight’s subject: Evanescence. Originally formed in Arkansas and residing currently in NYC, the group came from humble beginnings. Catapulted to stardom behind breakout single “Bring Me to Life” (and largely due to it’s inclusion in the successful yet awful Ben Affleck starring 2003 Daredevil film) the band found themselves at the top of the charts and even beat 50 Cent for the Best New Artist Grammy.
All photos for mxdwn by Mauricio Alvarado
As quickly as they found success, the band systematically found members leaving. Co-founder Ben Moody was the first to go in 2003. John LeCompt and Rocky Gray followed in 2007. Even longtime writing partner Terry Balsamo left the band this year in 2015. Amy Lee, the group’s lead singer is now the sole remaining member from the time when they first found a wide audience, and long the only remaining founding member. Their last album, the self-titled Evanescence now four years in the rearview, Lee has been non-committal about the band’s future. She’s done some limited soundtrack work and has teased possible solo releases. The band (and Lee herself) are both now completely free agents and removed from their obligations to longtime label Wind-up Records (who she apparently also has an outstanding lawsuit against for back payment of royalties). This year, the band finally has returned for three more modest shows, followed by a headlining slot at Ozzfest Japan. What does the future hold for the band? Is Lee going to eschew hard rock completely? Will the band even continue to be a band at all? With free agent status, why is Lee so cage-y about whether Evanescence will continue to make more music anytime soon? These are all questions that will likely reside somewhere in the ether for a good while.
On this night, a seasoned and polished Lee took the stage in Los Angeles to ravenous cheers. LA fans elated to hear her sing screamed as loud as any crowd we’ve almost ever heard at the Wiltern. Seriously. They started out with aggressive punch on self-titled track “Never Go Back,” a song that is about as high-tempo as the band gets. Fan favorite and stellar exemplum of Lee’s vocal skill “Going Under” followed. Considering it’s one of the band’s very best songs, it’s a surprising inclusion at slot 2 for the night, as it could easily end any show they play. Its payoff is the secret sauce that has always legitimately won fans over with ease, a crunch and rising tension followed by a luminous, soaring vocal from Lee. It’s a vocal that glides through the melody so strong and powerfully that it’s hard to grasp how it’s physically possible to emote with such force and verve. That, coupled with the brutally honest lyrical depiction of the song’s protagonist hopelessly caught in a tailspin of depression brought on by a tortuous relationship cements the sincerity in Lee’s performance that makes it unforgettable. There’s a palpable frustration when Lee belts “I’ve got to break through,” offering a determined need to escape the darkness.
This sentiment is continued in the self-titled album song “What You Want,” where Lee offers figuratively and literally, “Remember who you really are / do what you, what you want.” “The Other Side” opts for far more ominous territory, hinting at a presence lost on the other side of the veil. Interpretation can be a sketchy science at best, but when it comes to lines like, “Counting the days to meet you on the other side,” it’s hard not to see this as a yearning for the after life and someone Lee believes to be waiting for her there. Oh, the song also rocks with ferocious energy. Sonically lighter (a grand piano is wheeled out for Lee to double on keys) yet lyrically darker still is “Lithium” which further explores the love/hate relationship with sadness. Hit song “My Heart is Broken” is another chance for Lee to knock the ball out of the park, nimbly floating between notes with angelic care belying the ravaged despair sung about.
Later, “The Change” and “Made of Stone” take this confectionary power to its logical extreme. On the former Lee echoes the winning formula of “Going Under” conveying the catharsis through only vocal histrionics and on the latter through a defiant call of “It’s never enough for you baby / don’t wanna play your game anymore / no matter what you say.” Each rocks with such convincing emotion it’s hard to wonder why they weren’t saved for the encore? After “Oceans,” Lee and guitarists Troy McLawhorn and Jen Majura returned with only acoustic instruments. In this brief portion, they did an impressive cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” and an alternate version of Evanescence’s classic devotional “My Immortal.” Standard electric guitars and drums returned for famous kiss-off “Call Me When You’re Sober.” A rarity drew things to a close in the form of Fallen-era track “Imaginary.” And appropriately, “Bring Me to Life” closed out the set proper. For those curious, the famous quasi-rap parts on the song originally done on the song by Paul McCoy of 12 Stones were not sang at all. The song was performed as if those parts did not exist. Thankfully, it stands up just fine without those shouted jabs, Lee’s glissando shifts between melodic segments taking the song to its expected operatic heights.
For their encore they returned for two punchy and to-the-point numbers. First, “All that I’m Living For” and finally “Erase This.” This might be the only flaw in the show at all. “All that I’m Living For” works as a strong piece of catchy slogans, and “Erase This” is effective as an up-tempo song, but neither jumps off the page with the amalgamated, eye-opening wonder that songs used earlier did. It’s far, far from a disappointing ending, but the band and the night feel like they deserve the strongest note possible to end on. To prove that in fact, in spite of their name, Evanescence isn’t disappearing at all.
And in truth, that’s the most important thing of all. How many truly impressive no-bullshit female singers are there in hard rock/metal? There are scores of recent female-fronted bands, but how many of them can really hit the high notes with such unnerving skill as Amy Lee? Ladle onto that, how many of them do so without somewhat desperately flaunting cleavage, sexual bravado or incensed attitude. A paltry few to be sure. Music snobs far and wide seem married to bad ideas, a hell-bent-for-leather notion that things need to occupy a myopic tonal range and all-too-narrow sonic palette. Apparently, it’s sound vaguely eclectic or vaguely dance-y or it’s “GTFO.” Yet here is a strong woman with incredible technical skill, her own unique and colorful sense of style, fearlessly honest lyrical content and all done without even the slightest trope of pandering to sex-starved boys. Dennis Lyxzén was right; we do dance to all the wrong songs. Indie music thankfully has St. Vincent as a paragon of comparable nature, but in hard rock, beyond Anneke van Giersbergen, there’s not much that stacks up to this. Haters be damned. If you can’t see the shimmering quality in this, your head’s up your own ass.
Never Go Back
What You Want
The Other Side
My Heart is Broken
Lost in Paradise
New Way to Bleed
Made of Stone
Going to California (Led Zeppelin Cover)
Call Me When You’re Sober
Bring Me to Life
– Encore –
All that I’m Living For
All photos for mxdwn by Mauricio Alvarado