Evanescence – Royal Festival Hall, London – 30.03.18

As I walk the road from Waterloo to London’s Royal Festival Hall I have absolutely no idea what I’m about to see. Is this a gig, or is this a concert? By the end of tonight, I’m hoping I’ll have an answer.

The goncert (copyright) in question is Evanescence: Synthesis Live with Orchestra. I saw the band at Hammersmith Apollo last year and it was the nostalgic mosh-mesh that I’d hoped for and expected (Even if I had come straight from work and looked like a chaperone). When I heard that the band were touring latest album Synthesis with a live orchestra, my first thought was, “Huh?” and my second thought was “I need to go”. And here I am.

Sitting waiting for the band to take the stage, it’s immediately obvious that this is something special; it’s seated, for starters. The other thing that strikes me is that the average age of the audience has jumped about 20 years from last year. Quick maths. What becomes apparent to me is that what’s actually happened is the hourglass of seating has flipped, and the career-entrenched older lot have grabbed the expensive seats downstairs, and the millennials have got themselves a bargain up top (where I would be, were it not for the joys of press).

When the band take the stage there’s a deserved cheer, but when Amy Lee appears from stage right wearing her trademark look of draped black, the loyal fan base roars in appreciation (Not surprising when a lot of people refer to the band as “she” and “her”).

Sat at the baby grand, Amy kicks off the Overture. As the strings kick in, you realise how exceptional the night is going to be. A refreshing glimpse for the eye is tonight’s conductor. Far from the stuffy old white man with a comb over, she stands in heeled boots, wearing a glamorous fitted black dress and her burgundy hair tied up on her head. This is not just any orchestra; this is an Evanescence orchestra.

True to album, the first song is Never Go Back. It delivers as an opening, with the music filling the beautiful concert hall. Drummer Will Hunt is chucking his drumsticks in the air every 20 seconds and bringing me out in a cold sweat each time imagining him dropping them. Much with last year, my first shock is Lee’s stunning vocals; one doesn’t normally associate rock groups with vocals, but she delivers beautifully in her iconic and individual style. Comparing the track to the original released in 2011, it’s incredible how well executed this refresh is. Read through to the end of this article to see all the songs side-by-side with their original counterparts.

Lacrymosa is immediately next, taking its influence from Mozart’s iconic and dark requiem. Fans will recognise the song from the 2006 album The Open Door, but by removing the vocal backing chorus from the song, it’s been modernized and made more individual somewhat. Soz Mozart, choruses are soooo 1791.

The End of the Dream (my personal favourite on this album) does what I’d hoped it would. It’s beautiful power fills the hall, with brass in the final chorus making my hairs stand on end. Lee’s vocals in the song are nothing short of spectacular! At times the music does get so loud that the vocals are slightly subdued, but for a song like this, that’s like turning down dessert for more wine. Tit for tat. I’ll have a second helping of either and both.

There’s not much talking from Lee throughout the night, but as the band, and leading lady, have been quite private throughout their career it has always been about the music. They, much like their fans, expressed themselves through the songs and not on NME or MTV Cribs.

My Heart Is Broken is met with great enthusiasm, but nothing compared to the next song, Lithium. The audience erupts into applause on the first note and the venue is then silent throughout the now guitar-less ballad. The last time I heard a venue so silent was for Hans Zimmer at the SSE Arena – silence is a commodity that most acts would kill to have. Some groups would struggle to find silence in a bingo hall.

An expected and deserved explosion of gratitude comes from the stalls as the band plays Bring Me To Life, surely the song that you play for anyone when they say, “Who are Evanescence?”. The orchestral re-imagining of the track sits somewhere between the original band’s recording, and Katherine Jenkin’s bizarre 2009 cover. Something that really comes to life (ey, get it?) live for this song is the brass accompaniment. It vibrates through the body like a defibrillator. Well, I guess both do have the purpose of bringing you to life (last one, I promise).

After the Interlude, the unmistakable string arrangement of Imaginary once again brings to audience to cheer; I swear, after tonight they would make a killing from a stand selling throat lozenges at the exit. Though any song from 2003’s Fallen is bound to make a fan go wild.

Secret Door is the perfect breather after the previous punchy pieces. The harp has a feel of Welsh folklore, and the venue is lit up and bathed in lights. Lee herself admits that this song is one of her favourites and is best suited to a live orchestra.

As Hi-Lo starts I realise why my nose is so out of joint. This song normally features at the beginning of the album but has been shifted down in the set-list, pushing every other song up one. The track’s sound wouldn’t be misplaced in an ancient Egyptian epic, or Trojan love story, and is again one of my album highlights.

A surprise new love for me is Lost In Paradise. When listening to the album previously, I must admit it would be a skipper, but hearing it tonight completely changed my opinion. I’m a huge classical music fan, and the orchestral usage in this song is stunning. Having been converted, I can now confirm that Synthesis is “all killer no filler”.

Your Star is a mystical and slow burning song which I personally adore. The brassy bridge is my absolute favourite use of that half of the orchestra of the night, and wouldn’t be out of place at the Royal Albert Hall (one extra date, maybe? Just a suggestion).

It surprises me as Amy Lee tells the audience before she plays it that one of her least preferable songs of theirs is My Immortal, surely a huge fan favourite? It’s certainly my mother’s, but then again, she self-destructively loves anything that makes her cry. Every month she probably donates most people’s annual incomes to dog charities due to her love of recording too many episodes of “Dog Rescue”. Lee does however say that the song has been given new meaning to her by listening to the stories of fans, and now plays the song in the mindset that it’s being with the fans that makes the song light up. It just goes to show that this is a band that really are all about the fans, and also all about re-invention.

Following The In-Between, a dark piano solo, comes the album’s finale Imperfection. In comparison to the rest of Synthesis, this track is more in line with the previous incarnations of the album’s self-covers. Lee’s performance of the song is also much more in parallel with how she was when I saw her at Hammersmith last year. Finally, a chance to swing that long dark hair!

After a very short while, the encore starts with only Amy re-appearing on the stage. Well, her and the 30-odd piece orchestra. She plays through her 2017 solo song Speak To Me. The rest of the encore follows the demure and delicate ballad and is a beautiful wind down. The other two songs, with Lee being joined by the band for the latter, are Good Enough and Swimming Home.

One notable omission from the set-list is their huge UK hit, Going Under. But what one must remember is that this isn’t a greatest hits tour. This is a band in a rejuvenated prime – a band celebrating a different and daring new venture. Greatest hits tours mean the end, and this feels very much like a new beginning for a band that have been entertaining us for 20 years.

When I saw Evanescence last year, I commented that the band’s success was always not through curing angst, but justifying it. After tonight I think they have a new string to their bow, which is teaching their younger fans, now at a point in their lives where they’re choosing careers and paths, that by changing yourself and growing you don’t have to lose parts of you that you cherish. And trust me, that lesson lands much better coming from a rock band than from your lecturers or parents.

The energy at a live Evanescence show is like no other. I worried that the seated arrangement of the night would dampen the experience, but I worried for nothing. The band were met with the adoration that they have sculpted and were bid farewell by a standing ovation by the entire 3,000 strong audience. If you enter one of these gigs as a part-time fan, you will leave as a full-time fan.

And that brings me to the big question; was this a gig or a concert?

Well, you’ll have to go and make your own mind up.

Cover photo: Matt Thorpe

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