Friday, August 3, 2012


photo credit: Brian Ives (really!)
It's been years - well over a decade, actually - since I've gone to see Helmet in concert.  I haven't seen them since Page Hamilton reactivated the band in 2004, five years after he dissolved the band.  I was curious if they'd be as powerful today as they were back then.  And when I say "they," I mean Page and anyone who he hires.  Helmet is no more (or less) a band than Nine Inch Nails, which is an observation, not a criticism.

Like Trent Reznor, Page Hamilton hires really great musicians who play as if they are full members of the band, who played on the classic records.  And as a result, seeing Helmet is still really powerful, just like it was in the '90s.

I first experienced Helmet at the Roseland Ballroom in 1992, with the release of their classic Meantime. They opened for Faith No More (it was a mind-blowing show). They were this weird combination of Zeppelin-esque power with Fugazi-esque post-hardcore.  They sounded like a bullet: sleek, hard, fast, with no adornment. They didn't dress like rock stars: they didn't dress like anyone you'd notice.  "Grunge" bands from Seattle are often credited/blamed for moving away from looking like "rock stars," but generally speaking, you'd notice if a guy from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden or Nirvana walked by you in 1992. They didn't look like they were in Poison, but you knew they didn't work on Wall Street!  The guys from Helmet, on the other hand, looked like anyone you'd see at a bar, or at a baseball game.  If you walked by them, you might not even notice them, which I think was part of the idea:  the only time they wanted you to notice them was when they were on the stage. The thing is, their music was so brutal and hard, that even though they looked conservative, they were way less accessible musically than the alternative rock bands of the era.  They influenced a lot of the bands who I really like (including Rage Against The Machine, Pantera and Tool) and many that I don't (KoRn and all their brethren).  Their music really resonated with me: it was metal but without any of the unnecessary stuff (long hair, misogyny, drum solos). To me, they symbolized getting past all the b.s. in life. That's just my interpretation, but they really resonated with me, and of course I loved (and love) the music.

photo credit: Brian Ives 
So, how was tonight's show?   Like I said, powerful.  It wasn't a "greatest hits" show.  Page noted that Helmet did a 20th anniversary tour for Meantime already; he also joked that at his age - 52 - he has to choose between sex and taking a nap.  The message being that he isn't playing all of the Meantime songs, and that he wasn't going to play a marathon set (the show was a co-headlining concert with The Toadies, and Hamilton also noted that there was a strict curfew, because Webster Hall is actually a disco). I wasn't super familiar with all of the songs that they played, truth be told.  Meantime and the follow-up, 1994's betty are two of my favorite albums of the '90s but I've not spent as much time with the rest of their discography.  The thing is, Helmet songs have such a great groove, and so much force, that I can enjoy them without knowing them by heart.  That said, I was bummed that they didn't play "Biscuits For Smut" and "Unsung." But some of my other favorites were in the setlist, including "Exactly What You Wanted," "In The Meantime," "Milquetoast" and "Wilma's Rainbow" were all amazing. And just as awesome as I remembered them.  Of course, I've never stopped listening to the band's recordings, which are among the most brutal albums in my collection. In a good way.

I didn't stay for the Toadies - but at my age, I have to choose between rocking and going to bed on time (and plus, I wanted to catch the Olympics!).  No disrespect to the band, but after Helmet, I figured it'd just be anti-climatic to me.

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