What I learned from going to an Evanescence show in 2015

“I think I’m the only one in here wearing a bright color.” I say the phrase out loud to no one in particular, but the subject of my gaze reinforces the statement. While the crowd isn’t only clothed in black, variations come in the form of deep reds, middle browns, forest greens. Meanwhile, I’m wearing a bright yellow sweater, which, when set against the neon shock of my hair (lime green, teal, and vibrant purple at the moment), stands out like a paintball on a dart board.

A night not so long ago: I’m at the Wiltern (a historic Los Angeles concert venue) with one of my best friends, steeling myself to go see Evanescence in 2015. Evanescence: A band forever linked in my mind to the summer of 2004, when multiple kids performed “My Immortal” power karaoke at the camp talent show; to a certain type of visceral, cinematic aggression (usually coded male); to Amy Lee’s jagged glass voice, which cuts and chills listeners to the bone.

Like many not-quite-metal bands, a broad category whose leading edge included Tool, Linkin Park, and Audioslave, Evanescence had a particular kind of heyday in the mid 2000s. But as the general music mood swung firmly toward more extreme, explicit pop, the band suffered from the falling tide. Though they released two more albums after the breakout debut Fallen, neither matched the vast heights and broken ground of the first, and the band lapsed into pop culture memory.

Until: An announcement that the band would be coming back together for three special shows, one in Nashville, one in Dallas, and one right in the heart (or, a heart) of Los Angeles. The revelation came as a shock of sorts, not because they don’t “deserve” a comeback tour, but rather that the footprint of their cultural memory was still so strong. My friends and I have been referencing Evanescence’s older music for years, and the band’s name is a touchstone among music fans of just about every generation. So when I got the chance to catch their LA show, how could I turn it down?

The first indication that the night was going to be amazing came in the form of a line. As I stepped out at the metro station in front of the Wiltern, a river of people had already formed outside of the venue, whose marquee proudly announced a sold-out show.

Not visible: A line that went down and around the block.

Once inside, I made the aforementioned quip about clothing color. The statement ended up holding true, but it didn’t matter; when the stage lights went down and the opening wave of “Never Go Back” blew over the crowd, it was impossible to see anything except the undulating bodies of hundreds of fans rocking out like their lives depended on it.

A typical snapshot of the crowd during the show.

The setlist was, judging by the constant roar of the audience, a fair and thrilling ride through the band’s three albums, bone-crushingly heavy tunes juxtaposed against whisper-light ballads, all anchored by Lee’s one-of-a-kind voice. Though much has been made of female voices and their roles in providing a template for performed, “easy” femininity (this The New Inquiry article explains the idea in further detail), Lee’s voice is warm in tone but hits like a bullet. It is easy to listen to but can’t be ignored as just a carrier of perfect melody, merely a vessel for someone else’s words and sentiments.

Though she writes the songs with her bandmates, the delivery is masterfully personalized and personified by Lee, whether she’s indicting a partner on “Call Me When You’re Sober” or leading a swelling singalong of that capital-P Perfect song, “My Immortal.” It’s the kind of voice that, in any other genre, would be put on a pedestal and written around and for, but with Evanescence, Lee takes the reins of the band’s sound and guides it, but never singularly overpowers or overshadows the other people on stage. She is the captain, and her voice is the beacon that guides listeners into themselves.

A co-worker shared with me that she’d worked with Lee before at a previous job, and she’d been nothing but kind and courteous; that “duality,” or at least the difference between on-stage and off-stage presence, between the heavy metal voice and the humble personality, was on display during the evening as well. Lee and her bandmates seemed in awe as the crowd chanted back every lyric, with screams of “I LOVE YOU!” (directed at all the band members) breaking the pauses between songs.

Before the show, I’d had my doubts about how the night would go. Rock shows have a reputation for being rowdy, male-dominated affairs, but the crowd for Evanescence was diverse in a real way; a fantastic mix of people all united in their ecstatic desire to see a moment-defining band play through songs of pain, redemption, and clarity. Of finding a community of outsiders, not and never lonely again.

I left the show as the encore began, my head (and ears) buzzing from the sound. My friend and I were giddy, riding the incredible wave of energy and love unleashed by the band and carried through the crowd. What a time to be alive, to witness the death and resurrection of every possible musical genre and tastemaker from long ago, to have a chance to directly touch the nerve of your nostalgia. There’s no word yet on when the band will next play — but the next time they come back, let’s hope they stay.

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Image courtesy of Wind-up Records.