Evanescence at the Congress Theatre


February 27, 2004

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

The best new artist Grammy has been a curse as often as it's been a blessing. Just ask Paula Cole, Hootie and the Blowfish, Arrested Development or Marc Cohn, all of whom followed winning the prestigious prize by doing nothing particularly impressive.

This year's victor, the Arkansas goth-pop band Evanescence, has sold almost 4 million copies of its debut album, "Fallen." The quintet showed no signs of rising above the hex when it performed a sold-out show at the Congress Theatre on Wednesday night, but this isn't to say that its set was without promise.

The group is hardly a band at all anymore: Guitarist Ben Moody, who co-wrote all of the songs with vocalist Amy Lee, abruptly quit last year in the middle of a tour and during the band's rise to the top of the charts. (He has gone on to work with pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne and American Idol Kelly Clarkson.)

But Lee commanded attention at the Congress as a whirling dervish with a long, flowing black mane, a witchy presence and a supple but penetrating voice. As she wailed her way through the band's hit single "Bring Me to Life" several thousand fans sang along with every word, and it was clear that she is on her way to becoming a star.

The band's sound is a schizophrenic mix of stomping nu-metal, ambient gothic melodrama, Christian-rock imagery (it shares a label with the similarly inclined Creed, though it has been trying to distance itself from the Christian market) and a heaping dollop of old-fashioned (circa the early '90s) alternative-rock angst.

In addition to playing nearly every song from its debut during a skimpy, hourlong set, Evanescence trotted out unremarkable covers of the Smashing Pumpkins' "Zero" and Soundgarden's "Jesus Christ Pose." (So much for dumping the Christian tag.)

Lee's backing musicians proved themselves to be a thoroughly generic bunch, hammering home the plodding rhythms and mechanical shred-guitar parts, with added decoration from atmospheric keyboard drones that seemed to be coming from a programmed DAT tape.

But the 22-year-old singer showed how little she needs her supporting cast during a mid-set, mostly solo turn at the grand piano, where she was transformed for several tunes into a teeny-bopper version of Tori Amos.

It remains to be seen whether Lee has anything to say beyond evoking cliche-ridden Christian images and wallowing in depressed misery in her lyrics, or if she can write melodies as anthemic as the one that drives "Bring Me to Life" on her own without help from Moody.

But contrary to what gangsta rapper and best new artist loser 50 Cent might think, Lee was the most worthy of the Grammy nominees in this year's category on the strength of her charisma alone. And that may well carry her into a more suitable setting for her talents in the future.