at Universal Amphitheater, August 4
At last: Hot Topic, the musical. Though introduced tonight as “big rock from Little Rock,” this Arkansas outfit were in fact installed in L.A. some time ago by their record label to be groomed for greatness. And the grand scheme has delivered, inasmuch as Evanescence’s debut album, Fallen, is already an international chart fixture thanks to “Bring Me to Life,” a single that ingeniously encapsulates all of nu-metal’s signature elements — groove-box loops, ominous guitars, chest-beating chants and raps — while adding an ingredient so obvious yet until now lacking from the genre: female vocals. Amy Lee’s soaring, transparent Tori Amos wail is equally mellow and dramatic.
While Evanescence’s nothing-left-to-chance approach has paid commercial dividends, the live show is sometimes left vapidly formulaic: competent contemporary hard rock amid a corporate stench confirmed by Lee’s painfully dutiful gratitude to sponsors. Yet with Lee’s seductive timbre lubing the load, the band’s McAngst is eminently listenable, engaging a diverse audience all night with reaching refrains and bleak ballads. The elfin singer holds court like a pirouetting, gothic Cyndi Lauper before a virtual karaoke machine of pre-recorded sounds and black-clad bandmates with the collective charisma of a disk drive. Evanescence have studied Linkin Park, similarly opening tunes with tiny beat-box and keyboard blips before stodgy stringed slabs engulf the ears, an of-the-moment approach dotted with dated cock-rock guitar solos and squealing, false-harmonic interjections.
While “Bring Me to Life” is their unchallenged flagship, Evanescence are no one-song act, the epic hooks of “Everybody’s Fool” also persisting like a long goodbye. However, they’re soon retracing their rock-meets-electronica and stop-start steps, and a wooden rendition of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero” comes off as lazy padding. Evanescence currently lack the catalog and charisma to meaningfully fill headlining sets, but if they drop their guard a little, they might yet linger in their sudden spotlight.
at the Hollywood Bowl, August 11
Dear Björk is misleading. She wouldn’t willingly trick you to make you look foolish, but her appearance will fool your eyes. You see her — this icon beloved by the electronic dance people the world over — “dancing” onstage at the Hollywood Bowl: diminutive, cute of course, hopping about like a bunny, flapping her hands to emphasize like a wee lass at a talent show, and speaking in an Icelandic accent that may or may not be embroidered, for effect (you hope the latter, but the former will do). You’re detecting that Björk’s not a dancer at all, she’s fumbling her way through this act, probably through her life, like we all must. Though she’s not a dancer in the dark: It’s the gathering upsurge of a truly thrilling sensation inside for what Björk’s doing up there onstage, or in films or on her records, that forces you to consider what it is that allows her to detonate with such an enormous power. Because anything that can make you literally shiver and feel a kind of real concern and . . . love . . . that must be what they call charisma, an enigmatic thing.
Björk’s huge and reverential following at the Bowl paid back with a show of devotion and respect, an actual hush falling during the quieter passages. Björk reeled out their favorites, and hers, much from the pinnacle last album, Vespertine, lots of the best from her catalog. She’s traveling now with a slightly modified lineup of Zeena Parkins on harp and chimebox, a group of string players from Iceland, and the duo of Matmos, whose resourceful foley work (shoes stepping in sand, one guy massaging the other’s head for crackling tones) and buzzings and bass throbs and programmed rhythms were keenly underplayed and worked in highly idiosyncratic ways against the swelling, sawing strings and Parkins’ harp flourishes or lonely chimes.
At several points, fireworks shot spectacularly from the roof of the Bowl, even as wicked plumes of flame jutted fearsomely on cue from the floor of the stage; extraordinary as in beautiful or grotesquely beautiful videos, usually with mutant-microbiotic or -aquatic themes — or a funny one with a scribbled-in penis deflowering quaint ethnic imagery — were a way of visually expanding on Björk’s often befuddlingly jumbled bags of emotion. And Björk was the tiny figure swimming about amid this massive mass of not-so-preposterous imagery and hellishly claustrophobic or aerified-lovely tinkling sounds; she didn’t just sing in very assured, pure tones (as subtly nuanced, miraculously, as she is on disc), but conducted the whole thing, or painted it, live, with perceptively childlike waves of her arms. (John Payne)
METALLICA, LIMP BIZKIT, LINKIN PARK, DEFTONES, PUDDLE OF MUDD
at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, August 9
The Zeitgeist of Metallica has always been madness, cues long taken by their molten mentors from across the pond: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Black Sabbath. “Go fucking crazy!” is the mantra of Ozzy, the archetypal rock madman. In and out of his padded-cell runaway-locomotive career, he’s made millions and inspired legions. But he and his formidable precursors banked on theater, dungeons, dragons and the mythology of evil. Metallica emerged from a Bay Area alley, took their speed-riff and gnarl-drenched existential message to the street and cultivated an empire, one fan at a time. Metallica conquered the world, and in doing so, they almost destroyed themselves. Sounds insane, doesn’t it?