Evanescence arrived in Detroit last Friday with the number one album on the Billboard 200 and a hit single in “Call Me When You’re Sober,” front woman Amy Lee’s trudging kiss-off to ex-boyfriend Shaun Morgan of South African post-grunge also-rans Seether. Not only was The Open Door number one on the charts; it had debuted in the top spot, proving emphatically the staying power of a group that may have moved platinum units with its first album, 2003’s Fallen, but had never seemed like much more than the sum of two or three solid singles (“Bring Me to Life” was inescapable) and the relative novelty — in the boys’ club of alternative metal, anyway — of having a female singer. But here was Evanescence, reveling in the explosive success of its sophomore effort in front of a sold-out State Theatre, the crowd itself still reeling with beery euphoria from the Tigers’ Game 3 win over the Oakland A’s just across Woodward Ave. at Comerica Park. It was easy to get caught up in all of the excitement, and many people were. But as they pressed toward the stage, waiting out the churning, dude-rock drudgery of openers Revelation Theory, It was apparent that Evanescence’s real draw was Lee herself, the woman they had put in every slot of the top 8 in their souls.
Fallen blew up in 2003 on the strength of “Bring Me to Life,” a perfectly-crafted single that grafted Lee’s ethereal moaning about love as resurrection onto brawny drop-D guitar riffs. “My Immortal” followed — it sounded like Tori Amos covering a 1980s-era Scorpions power ballad. Both of these singles endured, helped along by blue-tinted videos where Lee drifted around in empty mansions swathed in gauzy veils, her heavy mascara and rush of black hair spilling like ink across milky skin, and where once Evanescence was a rookie act, it was suddenly a million seller. Why not? Post-grunge had already been tiring under the weight of hundreds of soundalikes, and with her opera-as-high-school-musical vocals and 18th century postmortem chic finery, Lee was the perfect antidote to a bunch of bald front men with Vedder fetishes and mommy issues. Rock stardom ensued, guitarist and cofounder Ben Moody split, and Lee was left standing as the heiress to the Evanescence fortune. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what the fans wanted.
It’s Lee’s stained glass cage of emotion they love.
“Breathe into me and make me real,” she sang in “Bring Me to Life,” aligning Christian imagery with the search for Mr. Fantasy. But the line is made new with Open Door and the band’s chart-topping return to the klieg lights. Now, Lee is Evanescence, no longer its default leader but the only voice that matters. She’s free of competing personalities (Moody), and on Open Door the songs are hook-less and forgettable, just vaguely heavy delivery systems for her sometimes equally vague ruminations on duality, heartbreak, emptiness, and other excavations of the human soul. She’s a sounding board and mouthpiece for a nation of listeners who either can’t articulate their own negative space or outsource its management to Big Pharma. She’s a trusted, knowing friend to women, a Hot Topic, contemporary gothic pinup girl to men, and an amateur psychologist to them all. They breathe into her, and make her real.
“I just love her,” a girl in her late teens gushed, just after Evanescence had finished its final encore of the evening. “She’s just so smart! She uses so many big words!” Her male friend agreed, his eyes equally pushed open as far as they’d go, bulging like egg whites out of his skull. Both nearly hyperventilated as they complimented Lee on her fashion choices, her vocabulary, her strength; she was the coolest girl ever in their minds, not only the most popular but also the most accessible, even if they ultimately identified with Lee most as a completely unattainable rock star. This was a fine position for them to admire her from, since the distance of her celebrity means there’s safety in projecting every depressive thought or broken zigzag of a relationship onto the generalized tales of moralism, hope, and struggle in Lee’s songs.
“Fear is only in our minds,” Lee sings in “Sweet Sacrifice,” from Open Door. Pretty generic. But the less specific she is, the more resonance Evanescence has with anyone looking for absolution. And besides, the guitars are really loud and stuff, you know? By the numbers, there’s a lot of people looking. Open Door seems poised to spend another week kicking the crap out of The Killers’ latest album on the Billboard charts. And at the State Theatre, the Tigers’ win was forgotten as the capacity crowd swayed like converts to the music and Lee’s over-the-counter cure alls. Evanescence became an amplified, alternative metal version of US Weekly, celebrity reality, and the pleasant seascapes and hand-holding of every advertisement for prescription medication — another receiving bin for fear or splintered dreams, with the added benefit of a strong personality who looks great in a bustier.Johnny Loftus is Metro Times music editor. Send comments to [email protected].