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Not Fade Away

EVANESCENCE
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.

BJÖRK
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?

Image makers and ledger fakers proclaim that this Coliseum event is “the package of the summer,” a postmodern headbanger’s tribal wet dream. Multiplatinum, high-cred, hip, on the tip, must see, must be, can’t miss, don’t diss, if you hear a hiss, it’s probably for Fred Durst. (Popularity can breed contempt and tarnish the art, especially if you can’t “just say no” to Britney Spears.) But high-buzz marketing be damned. This is a Metallica concert, stadium-sized, awesome in spectacle. The openers do their duty, bark their anger, wield their weapons of metal destruction, impart their pain and collect their pay. But it’s not their show and they know it. Respect in da house: With the table competently set for another last, psychotic supper, the resurrection commences and 70,000 bruised but not beaten faithful unite to bask in the messianic waters of the mighty Metallica. “We’re here for the fans who stuck by us through our tough times,” says King James, royal in stature, but forever a man of the people. He dedicates the classic “Harvester of Sorrow” to the masses below.

Behold the loyal ones who have long forgotten Napster and forgiven the departure of bassist Jason Newsted and even James Hetfield’s own domestic falls from grace. Witness each and every fan in this perfect, primordial rock & roll moment, watch them elevate as the riffs lovingly attack the senses. Gratitude fills the stadium as the show fades to black, manifesting a collective, deafening wail aimed at the heart of the full-moon sky. Metallica is alive. We are alive. Nothing else matters. (Lonn Friend)

SUPERGRASS, PALOALTO
at El Rey, August 8

It’s not uncommon for pop combos to play the hometown card to curry favor with an audience, but Paloalto — a quartet of studiously disheveled mods — should know this strategy won’t fly in Los Angeles, where a local band is just another crab trying to claw its way out of the bucket. Still, singer James Grundler soldiered on with his group’s rigidly Anglophile rock, a kind of Verve/Radiohead redux as heard on the self-titled 2000 debut and this summer’s follow-up, Heroes and Villains. The energy rose a notch when they unleashed “Monolith” and “Breathe In,” where the guitars took on a squalling lysergic burnish that was almost — well, let’s just say Paloalto oughta let it all hang out more often.

Can’t imagine how Oxford lads Supergrass squeezed into Spaceland a mere six months ago, since they seemed almost too big for a midsized venue like El Rey, where even before they took the stage some 40 friggin’ minutes later, the crowd swelled to three times its previous size and the cuts from Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine pumping over the PA got folks jazzed. But instead of smart-arsed cockney ’tude, the dastardly Oliver Reed–ish Gaz Coombes and his bandmates hunkered down to efficiently capture all the highs of their tarted-up hooligan Britpop — replete with frenetically winking kliegs — that aimed at nothing less than transcendent pleasure.

For a band nearing a decade into their career, what a smashing surprise it is that their latest release, Life on Other Planets, turns out to be their best, an encouraging fact given that so many of Supergrass’ like-minded mates — Manic Street Preachers, Cast, Kula Shaker, etc. — haven’t stuck with it. So snugly ensconced in their hip pocket was this throng of votaries, however, that the ’Grassers coulda skipped the ludicrously catchy “Pumpin’ on Your Stereo” (from 2000’s uneven Supergrass) without any repercussions. “So you want some more, do you?” Coombes teased before the encore. After the giddy zinger “Rush Hour Soul,” the band — suddenly remembering they’d have to be in the exact spot in less than 24 hours — decided to save some juice for Saturday, and vamoosed. (Andrew Lentz)

THE LUCKSMITHS
at Sea Level Records, August 10

When a band’s standout song involves both a titular Smiths pun (“There Is a Boy That Never Goes Out”) and a wink at their own stylistic habits (“‘ba-ba-ba-da-ba-ba,’ go the backing vocals”), you know you’ve entered the rarified, often self-referential universe of indie-pop. (Not, that is, of “rock.”) As with all the artists who transcend the style (the Wedding Present, Belle & Sebastian, fellow Aussies the Cannanes), the Luckmiths’ music succeeds in spite of its surface charm and sweetness, distinguished by an unerring ear for form and proportion, and by chief writer/singer/drummer Tali White’s rich, thoughtfully phrased delivery.

The fact that the band couldn’t score a club show here, after 10 years of record making and three previous U.S. trips, doesn’t say much for local booking policy. (Note to club owners: There actually is a healthy-sized twee constituency in L.A., and most of them only dress like they can’t buy your liquor.) Sea Level may not have the best sightlines or PA in town, but in spirit the brightly painted Echo Park shoebox made an ideal last-minute host for the trio’s jump-rope rhythms and modestly scaled melancholy.

On the Lucksmiths’ recent Naturaliste, you could miss the fact that White plays a stripped-down drum kit. Live, though, his snare-and-tom setup lent uptempo numbers a sort of thudding swing, more Mo Tucker than Meg White (no relation), and didn’t seem to mar his vocal performance at all. Guitarist Marty Donald’s backing harmonies were more distinctive than his standard-issue underamped strum, but Mark Monnone’s bass lines were atypically meaty for the genre. Every song written from within indie-pop faux-naif conventions (“T-Shirt Weather”) had its darker, smarter counterpart, such as the workaday “Midweek Midmorning” or the as-yet-unrecorded “Successlessness.” A couple more tours like this, though, and that last title will seem even more disingenuous than it does already. (Franklin Bruno)