Bitter cold and towering piles of snow blanketing all of Allston couldn’t keep out the hordes who packed Brighton Music Hall to capacity on February 19 for the night Helmet came to town. Sold out shows are the norm for this kind of tour, one seeing pivotal NYC noise rock/metal hybrid Helmet dusting off Betty, as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their third record.
This was a pivotal release for the band – taking momentum from the previous record Meantime, it became their highest charting record to date and made their lock-step precision and power a trademark sound for discerning metal fans everywhere. It’s not likely that anyone in the jammed venue was unfamiliar with the band, but if they were, the opening track “Wilma’s Rainbow” painted a clear picture of what was to come. Largely driven by the insistent snare crack, the pillars of Helmet’s songs are held up by the bludgeoning riffs of Dan Beeman and the smeared, chromatic fret wanderings of leader Page Hamilton, the sole survivor of the original lineup and band founder.
The potential pitfalls of playing an entire record live is that oddball songs and studio decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time have to be dealt with, either by totally ignoring these outliers or gamely plying forward. Tonight Hamilton had two such instances to tackle; first, the jazz standard of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Beautiful Love,” and the sparse hillbilly blues of closer “Sam Hill.” Both worked as small islands of alternate beauty amid the wreckage of their other riff-filled songs.
The second set cast a much wider glance over the rest of their discography, with all but 2004’s Size Matters getting at least one song represented. The first two records are really their most essential, taking the stereotypically rude and brusque NYC attitude and condensing it down to a lethal concentrate. “Bad Mood,” “Blacktop,” “Turned Out” and “Unsung” all hit with force and deadly accuracy, the latter finally priming the mosh pit.
Though Helmet has gone through several lineup changes over the years, the biggest hole from the original is drummer John Stanier (who has gone on to play with Battles and Tomahawk), who was a critical part of forging the band’s sounds with his primal ferocity and machine gun snare attacks. Kyle Stevenson did about as good a job as one possibly could, even nailing the cacophonous percussive assault at the end of “Vaccination.”
In the end, the show proved to Mother Nature she’s no match for die-hard fans looking for a taste of the past while relishing in the future of Helmet, which from this show looks to be one bright enough to trigger the melt we all crave right now.
Primarily based in Boston, Massachusetts, Tim Bugbee is no stranger to traveling throughout the country or overseas to capture the best live music photos.