November 10, 2016. Get off work late. Quickly change clothes. Try to get off at your exit and no one will let you over and get bypassed onto a side street. Get stuck in construction traffic on the way back to the freeway because the city just has to have every road project going on at the same time. Get back on the highway for what should be a 45 minute drive. Traffic stops for five miles just outside of town for no apparent reason. Finally clear the mess and speed towards St. Augustine to find traffic again stopped all the way through town after taking “the short cut”. Get parked and head into the venue just as the first band starts some two hours after leaving work. Frustrating, but such is life in metropolitan areas everywhere; especially when one is in a hurry.
These are the times that finding the positives really pay off. When I parked, I was welcomed by the calming beacon of the beautiful St. Augustine Lighthouse, built in 1874 and was immediately bussed to the St. Augustine Amphitheater; a huge improvement over many shows that I have attended in the past where lines were long, the waits even longer and fuses very short. Huge props to the city for their spectacular organization of such a large event! Once in, lines moved quickly, as friendly and efficient security assured a safe show. Excitement and anticipation were palpable as folks bought their snacks, grabbed an adult beverage and some band merch before the spectacular that was sure to follow. Fans were certainly not going to be decided. Breathe in the ocean air on this gorgeous, clear night in St. Augustine and let the music cleanse the frustrating gray mist from your soul.
Opening the show, gold-selling and long standing artists, Sick Puppies took the stage to a roar of enthusiasm. With five studio albums (including Fury which was released in May of this year), a number of EPs/live albums and a plethora of videos dating back to the early 2000s, it comes as no surprise that the amphitheater was already reaching its capacity with venerate fans. I cannot imagine them receiving such a warm welcome when touring with Evanescence nine years ago in 2007. Founder, bassist and backing vocalist Emma Anzai, drummer Mark Goodwin and Bryan Scott (who replaced founding member Shimon Moore in 2014) on lead vocals and guitar had no problem whipping the crowd into a frenzy playing their Alternative spin on Rock ‘n Roll. Being a trio, especially one where the singer also plays guitar, the huge stage would likely swallow a group of a lesser caliber, but Ms. Anzai moves about the stage like a wildcat on speed while Goodwin keeps up his end of the show behind the kit. Very entertaining to watch. With light hearted banter between songs, Sick Puppies exude enthusiasm and a sincere appreciation for all that showed up. During the course of their set, the band played songs from all four of their releases (except Welcome to the Real World that was only released in Australia) including “My World” from Dressed Up as Life, “War” off of Tri-Polar, “Gunfight” on Connect and a number of songs off of their latest release, Fury like “Where Do I Begin?”, “Let Me Live” and “Black and Blue”. They even played Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerilla Radio” off of their 1999 album, The Battle of Los Angeles with absolute perfection. I have to give a lot of credit to Bryan Scott for his part of the show as well. With such a popular and long standing band as Sick Puppies is, he had huge expectations laid heavily on his shoulders and he handles it with ease and grace. This man is a natural and is a perfect fit. His personality and natural stage presence add a great vibe to an already great band! If you have not heard it yet, definitely check out Fury. Really good album and a perfect progression of Sick Puppies material. This, being my first foray into a Sick Puppies show, I would certainly like to see them again.
Already wound up by Sick Puppies, the crowd awaited the oncoming spectacle that Evanescence was sure to bring. One thing that really surprised me was how restrained the crowd was. Not unenthusiastic by any stretch of the imagination, but not nearly as rowdy as I would have expected. Once the lights went out, the band took the stage under their trademarked starred “e” to a roar like I have not heard at the amphitheater before (and I have seen a number of really big acts here). “Everybody’s Fool” began just as Amy Lee bounded out with a smile brighter than the brightest of stage lights. She could have sat down on the stage with a kazoo and the crowd would have been absolutely mesmerized. Once those angelic pipes that we have all come to know and love were cut lose, the collective voice of the crowd became all but deafening. For the remainder of the evening, be it singing from every point on the stage or sitting solo behind the grand piano, Ms. Lee owned this huge audience. The rest of the set included a thoughtful collection of works from all of their releases including “What You Want”, “Going Under”, “The Other Side”, “Lithium”, and acoustic version of “Even in Death”, “My Heart Is Broken”, “Made of Stone”, “Weight of the World”, “The Change”, “Take Cover”, “Breathe No More”, “My Immortal”, “Your Star”, “Whisper”, “Disappear”, “Call Me When You’re Sober”, “Imaginary”, “Bring Me to Life” and their interpretation of the Michael Jackson classic “Dirty Diana”. This was very near two hours of almost nothing but music with just a few short interludes of crowd talk, mostly to sincerely thank everyone for coming out to see their show. The rest of the band, Jen Majura and Troy McLawhorn playing guitars, Will Hunt on drums and Tim McCord covering bass, kept the show kinetic and rolling at a bullet train pace except during acoustic pieces where Amy Lee and her grand piano took center stage. I have to say that the light show was also nothing short of amazing and served as a great visual backdrop from which to watch Evanescence play. I was really surprised by the diversity of the crowd as well. Ages ranged from young children to the elderly; pop folks to Metalheads and a pretty equal representation from the genders. Everyone seemed to know every word to every song as the audience accompanied Amy on every heart-felt note. I cannot recall a concert where this held true for such a large percentage of the crowd. Really moving as the music resonated so deeply with so many diverse people. I have seen Evanescence quite a few times over the years and have to say this was their best performance to date. Heart strings were pulled as taut as the strings in the lovely piano Lee plays so beautifully. The entire band is extremely talented and plays at such a high level that I often found myself staring at the stars, completely lost in the music. Others danced, some just swayed to Lee’s unique croon while others just stood slack-jawed, in awe. I guess if I had to sum the evening up in a word, it would be “classy”. This entire band bleeds the music that they play; no need to over or undo anything. Hit the stage and do what they were born to do…
By the time this special evening was over, nothing could have rattled my cage. Not traffic, not the lack of sleep, nothing. The frustration of the day again cleansed by the power of wonderful music performed by two very impressive bands. CDs are great, but actually experiencing the band face-to-face sets in stone why I love music so much. As Evanescence and Sick Puppies continue their tour, do yourself a favor and hit the show if it comes anywhere near you. These breaks in life are part of what make life so much fun!