- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 29, 2004

Being tabbed as Grammy’s Artist of the Year hardly cements an act’s place in rock music. Just ask Milli Vanilli, Paula Cole or Arrested Development, winners all whose post-Grammy careers ranged from rocky to calamitous.

Evanescence, anointed with this year’s honor, could veer off in any number of directions based on their District performance on Saturday.

The band, the latest import from Little Rock, Ark., arrived at DAR Constitution Hall in Northwest armed not only with industry approval but with inscrutable lead singer Amy Lee’s otherworldly appeal.

The group ran through the bulk of 2003’s “Fallen,” their Wind-Up Records debut, which to date has sold more than 3.6 million copies.

Evanescence’s calling card — self-important glam rock laced with harder guitars than pop radio usually allows — took a hit when lead guitarist/songwriter Ben Moody pulled a disappearing act last October. He’s since been replaced by former Cold guitarist Terry Balsamo.

On stage, the group’s sound remains essentially unchanged. Follow-up discs may show just how crucial Mr. Moody’s contributions really were, but for now the band survives by clinging to its breakthrough debut.

Still, all may not be well within the group.

The remaining band members barely interacted throughout the set, and Miss Lee never bothered with the obligatory introductions — as much a concert staple as the encore. Chalk it up to immaturity, perhaps, but more interpersonal fissures may soon bubble forward.

Miss Lee bounced on stage wearing a diaphanous white skirt, looking from the waist down like a blushing bride. Her upper torso was all business, from the black tank top to the blacker mop of straight hair tumbling from her porcelain features.

She’s one of a dying breed, the raging female rocker, and her potent voice and lack of a manufactured veneer bode well for her future. Women clearly respond to her raw authenticity. If we saw peeks of her bare belly while she gyrated on stage, it was more a legitimate “wardrobe malfunction” than cagey calculation for male approval.

“Bring Me to Life,” which won the group’s second Grammy this year for best hard rock performance, blends a counter-chorus rap that’s as organic as any rap-rock hybrid so far.

Should the band eventually fade away into one-hit wonderland, they’ve left a doozy of a forget-me-not. And its live presentation measured up to the original.

“Going Under,” nearly as dense as that Grammy-winning song, stood on less sturdy ground. Miss Lee’s earthly murmurings evaporated beneath the rhythm section’s furious assault. She took command with far less bluster on “My Immortal,” which she sang while playing the piano. Miss Lee suggested Saturday’s show was the first time she did both live before an audience, something her tense body language confirmed.

The 20-year-old wrapped her unadorned tinkling with a soft “thank you,” like a schoolgirl responding to a kind remark.

She got plenty of positive reinforcement from the capacity crowd, a mix of neo-goths, standard teen types and parents watching the musical progression of their curious daughters at point-blank range.

“Tourniquet,” an ‘80s-era metal dirge drenched in melancholia, proved as full of articulated rage in concert as it declares on “Fallen.”

No new material came forth during Evanescence’s performance, with only a Soundgarden cover fleshing out the band’s still-young songbook.

Opening act Default, a hard-charging quartet from British Columbia, did more than prep the crowd for the headliner. The band’s textured hooks and confident live display make them a certifiable threat to Creed, Staind and every other hard-edged band on today’s alternative stations.

The band already has two hits to its name, “Deny” and “Wasting My Time,” and their live act as currently assembled needs little spit-polish.

Lead singer Dallas Smith — is that a rock star name, or what? — verbally cajoled the crowd up onto its feet mid-set. Default’s music kept them out of their seats for much of the set.

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