Photos © 2017 by: Roman Sobus
Passing beneath its magnificent State Street façade (itself a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris), let us step inside Chicago’s grand namesake theater, not knowing that when the evening has drawn to a close, we’ll have experienced something profound and memorable.
Greeted by a grand staircase in the cavernous lobby, we’re reminded of both the Paris Opera House and the Royal Chapel at Versailles. Ensconced in the auditorium, we’ll find our plush, cushioned seats under seven stories of ornate French Baroque craftsmanship, adorned in fixtures of polished brass, dappled with reflected light from giant gleaming crystal chandeliers.
This the setting for the November 30th performance of Synthesis, the latest release by epic gothic rock ensemble Evanescence. Fronted by the one and only Amy Lee, beatific siren of operatic presence and grandeur, this new version of the group seems intent on showcasing the evolution and, some might say, “elevation” of the music, with ample assistance from a full orchestra of classically trained musicians alongside synthmaster and album co-producer William B. Hunt.
Onstage, a silky screen of smoke, a gentle glow of soft violet gels, bathing an array of expensive instruments and carefully arranged sheet music, awaiting the additional players to return from a break between sets. To open the evening, six beautiful renditions from the Susie Seiter-conducted orchestra, performing pieces by Gabriel Faure, Nino Rota, one Mr. Danny Elfman (yes, that one), and a couple of unknowns by the names Beethoven and Mozart.
A quiet murmur flitters through the crowd like butterflies, tittering to a slow-building thrum in anticipation of the appearance of the band on the marquee. People are predictably transfixed by their smartphones, the beckoning luminosity of portable screens into which human beings are so easily drawn. Several couples in our immediate vicinity sit in total silence, neither looking at nor talking to one another while the glimmering digital display dazzles and distracts, pinging the hungry dopamine receptors in the brain with instant gratification and meaningless, manipulative “rewards” designed to capture one’s waning span of attention.
Applause thunders upward from three-and-a-half thousand voices, bouncing among a pantheon of majestic hand-painted murals as first the band, then Lee herself, appears from the wings. Throughout the night, she will deliver her powerful vocals intermittently from a lone microphone at center stage, or seated at a baby grand piano situated stage right, swapping spots with a dexterous accompanist when the music dictates.
Comprised almost entirely of selections from Synthesis, which in addition to new songs written for the album, consists primarily of “reworked” material from previous releases, tonight’s set represents the unveiling of a new chapter in the Book of Evanescence; a purposeful reinvention, as it were, of something to which we’ve all perhaps attached certain labels in our efforts to describe. By now, nearly two decades into the band’s existence, we’ve heard the music referred to as Goth Metal, Alt Metal, PG-rated Nu Metal, Dark Pop, Post-Grunge, and even (may Zeus forbid it) so-called “God Rock.” None of these appellations can fully do justice to the lush, orchestral soundscapes and sweeping dynamics defining this most recent incarnation of a little band out of Little Rock; though if a single descriptor can be safely deleted, the word “Metal” would be the one to go. Heavy guitars are pushed far to the background, often not featured at all; replaced by a full string section, piano, synths, woodwinds, horns, Theremin, electric drums/percussion, and a lovely young harpist to add that final mystical detail to the aural palette.
“I don’t know if you know this,” says Ms. Lee. “But on this tour, we have a different group of musicians playing with us every single night, so everybody please give it up!” To a swelling of applause, she credits the surrounding orchestra for feathering the proverbial nest from which these newly arranged compositions will hatch. Songs like Lacrymosa and Your Star from 2006’s The Open Door, as well as choice tracks from 2011’s eponymous release, including Never Go Back, My Heart is Broken, and Lost in Paradise, fill out the bulk of the set. Fans do not seem to miss the chunky weight of distorted guitar which identified much of the band’s earlier music, save for one young man yelling out “Rock and Roll!!” during a short breath of silence. Hearty laughter from the crowd –and a lighthearted chuckle from Lee herself—bridges this gap between songs.
Choice selections from the three “official” studio albums in the Evanescence catalog, including the songs Imaginary and My Immortal, two tracks from the self-produced demo Origin (2000) which later reappeared on 2003’s Fallen, are featured prominently among brand new offerings like Unraveling, Secret Door, and Imperfection, the final song in tonight’s main set.
As this reviewer has admittedly never been a devout follower of the band, let us content ourselves with the casual observation that some of the earlier music we’ve come to think of as quintessentially Evanescence, with walls of chugging riffs to rattle the fillings, has transfigured into something decidedly different. This is plainly evidenced in the new version of Bring Me to Life, the slam-dunk breakout hit from their major label debut fourteen years ago, which seems to be “missing something” in the absence of crunchy guitar and bass, and the accompanying vocal of 12 Stones’ Paul McCoy. Certain parts of the song feel peppered with holes, where Lee seems to be singing to someone who is quite literally not there to respond.
Subjective opinions notwithstanding, let it be stated unequivocally that Ms. Lee is a radiant presence onstage, and her supernatural vocal capacity often feels better suited to belting out arias in an opera house than climbing the pop charts. Her vibrant lyricism evokes an ominous nocturnal melancholy with a cold, brooding catharsis, simultaneously conveying bleakness and hope with a sentiment both earnest and reflective. At times, the full symphonic accompaniment seems, dare I say, rather superfluous. Lee projects an immutable talent capable of carrying an entire show acapella (even while standing nearly completely still), yet with a humble confidence to bring the undeniable virtuosity of orchestra musicians along for the ride.
Astride his mythical flaming chariot, an expansive mural of the Roman Sun God Apollo, hoisting his magic lute to the heavens, presides over this latest merging of Symphony and Rock, while the inimitable frontwoman croons her lungs out beneath the proscenium. Despite the two giddy German tourists singing loudly off key behind us, their schmaltzy declaration of affection perfectly encapsulates what Evanescence has come to mean to its fans: “We love you, Amy Lee!”
So let us leave it at that.
Find Synthesis, out now on BMG Records, available on CD, vinyl, and digital download.
Biography: Formed in the mid-90’s, the two-time GRAMMY Award-winning EVANESCENCE has three albums under their belt. The band was integral in establishing a global, critical mass for in rock. The group’s 2003 landmark debut album Fallen laid the foundation; spending 43 weeks on the Billboard Top 10 the album sold more than 17 million copies worldwide and was certified 7x platinum in the U.S. Debut single and global hit “Bring Me to Life,” (feat. guest vocals from Paul McCoy of 12 Stones), reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as marking their first U.K. #1 hit single. The song also became the official theme for WWE No Way Out 2003. The equally popular “My Immortal” peaked at #7 in the U.S. and U.K., and both songs were featured in the soundtrack for the action movie Daredevil. The album produced four singles total including “Going Under” (#5 U.S. Modern Rock, #8 U.K.) and “Everybody’s Fool” (#36 U.S. Modern Rock, #23 U.K.). Fallen is one of only eight albums in the history of the chart to spend at least a year on the Billboard Top 50, it spent 104 weeks on the Billboard 200 and is #32 on the “Greatest of All Time, Billboard 200.”EVANESCENCE has won two GRAMMY Awards including “Best New Artist” and “Best Hard Rock Performance,” out of a total of seven career nominations.
Following multiple worldwide tours, EVANESCENCE released their first live album, Anywhere But Home, which sold more than one million copies worldwide. Next, the band released their second studio album, The Open Door, which went on to sell more than five million copies. Their self-titled third album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart as well as achieving the #1 slot on the following Billboard charts: Rock Albums, Digital Albums, Alternative Albums and Hard Rock Albums. After touring European festivals and shows in 2016 and early 2017, EVANESCENCE–lead singer-songwriter and pianist AMY LEE, bassist TIM MCCORD, drummer WILL HUNT, lead guitarist/backing vocalist TROY MCLAWHORN and guitarist JEN MAJURA–will return with their fourth album and most ambitious release to date, titled SYNTHESIS.Due out Fall 2017 on BMG, the band is currently in the studio with producers Will Hunt and orchestra arranger and composer David Campbell, SYNTHESIS will feature two new EVANESCENCE songs in addition to fan favorites re-imagined with a live orchestra and electronica. EVANESCENCE will launch the “Synthesis Live” tour in North America on October 14; combining their intense live performances and timeless songwriting with a powerful live orchestra, the group will truly deliver a transcendent concert experience.