I sadly never got a chance to see Helmet live in their first or second incarnations, as I was always broke back then (high school/early college days, y’know) and/or they would play at bars before I was old enough to get into them. As such, I have no reference point for what I witnessed this past Sunday night, other than the first time I saw the band, back in 2004, when they were touring for the comeback album Size Matters, which is not as good as any of the albums that came before it, but which is definitely worth a listen or several. That show was great (Frank Bello was in the band then!), but the circumstances of my attendance were less than ideal, and I was sad that I didn’t get to hear so many of the classic songs, because they were understandably playing several songs from the new album.
I have never seen (and very likely will never see) Helmet live with the original rhythm section of Henry Bogdan and John Stanier in place, and that’s a bummer, because those dudes are absolute motherfucking beasts on their respective instruments. However, as the sole original member, guitarist/vocalist Page Hamilton has assembled a damn fine team of musicians to help him carry on the Helmet name, and while I’d rather be able to see Henry Bogdan staring at my soul from under the bill of his cap while his bass tone turns my internal organs into so much goo, the alternative to Helmet circa 2015 is no Helmet at all, and that is just not a world I want to live in. But enough prattling on, I’ve got a show to review!
The Vogue Theater in Broad Ripple (Indianapolis), Indiana is a pretty good place to see a band; good sound, spacious floor area, plenty of tables along the sides, and a balcony that gets opened up for bigger shows. The stage is pretty low, and there’s no barricade, so you can get very close, if that’s the way you like to do it. Like any bar venue, the drinks are quite overpriced, but there are plenty of other bars located in the surrounding area at which you can whet your whistle before entering.
Mrs. Stay Heavy and I had a good meal and a couple of beers at Hop Cat, which is located across the street from The Vogue, while we waited for the doors to open at 7:00. We got in around 7:15, and chilled out at a table to do some people-watching until I could no longer handle not being in front of the stage. I took a leak and bought a sweet shirt, then around 7:30, I walked down and planted myself directly in front of Page’s monitor, where I immediately noticed the setlists for each set. I already knew that the glorious 1994 album, Betty, would comprise the first set, but as I perused the list for the second set, I found myself pretty excited that it included four songs from 1997’s super-underrated Aftertaste, though pretty bummed that it only included two songs from 1992’s Meantime, and only one song from the 1990 debut, Strap It On. The double row of asterisks gave me hope, however, and my faith was rewarded; the encore consisted of another song from Strap It On and three more songs from Meantime, which, if you’re keeping track at home, means they played half the album!
Two brothers soon came up and stood next to me, and one of them asked me if I like Clutch, and the three of us began to chat about music. They were super-nice, but I failed to get their names, because that’s the way I do things. I did learn that they drove in from Champaign, Illinois for the show, and that they were in attendance at the last Clutch show I saw at The Vogue, probably 2-3 years ago. One of them told me that “that guy over there (I think he was talking about the bartender) said that they’ll probably start later than they’re supposed to, since there aren’t a lot of people here yet.”
That guy over there was correct, and the 8:00 start time promised on the tickets came and went with nary a peep. 8:30 then came and went, and I was starting to get antsy, and a little bit annoyed, but a few minutes later, the lights went out, a roar went up from the crowd, the band came on and, without a word, began the opening strains of “Wilma’s Rainbow”. The place went apeshit, and I started to bang my head like I’ve never banged my head before. They plowed through the album with very little in the way of pausing, and no one in the band spoke until after the last notes of “Sam Hell” faded away into the ether. I was relieved to finally get a break, because I literally could not stop banging my head, but the band had other plans.
Page thanked everyone for coming out on a Sunday night, mentioned that they haven’t played Indianapolis “in a really long time” (he estimated 3-4 years, while a guy in the crowd estimated closer to 7; I have no idea who’s right, but either way, they were overdue), told us they had a “kind of special” setlist planned for us, with a few songs they haven’t played in a while, then they rolled into “Like I Care”, “Birth Defect”, and “Unsung”, the last of which sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy. I paused for a few seconds during “Unsung” to rest my rapidly deteriorating neck and looked behind me to see a row of probably 5 or 6 dudes with their arms around each other doing what appeared to be a can-can style dance.
Being unfamiliar with the band’s two most recent albums, I planned to utilize the time during “Welcome to Algiers” to rest as much as possible, but it sounded so good that I couldn’t, and then before I knew it, “You Borrowed” was starting. I tried again during “On Your Way Down”, but again, no luck. “Murder” was performed with such vim and vigor, the vocals nearly hemorrhoid-inducing, that I wondered how Page could possibly perform it on even a semi-regular basis, but then when it ended, he said that it was the first time they’d played it live in 10 years! He then told the story behind the song, a tale of living in New York City’s East Village, back when it was only desirable for the cheap rents. Seems a person was murdered in the apartment next to Page’s and the body was left there for several days before it was discovered (he said he assumed a rat had died in the walls).
I tried to rest again during “Miserable”, but was denied by the groove once more. “Exactly What You Wanted” and “Crisis King” almost killed me, but then they left the stage, Page leaning his guitar against his amp, filling the room with 1-2 minutes of the most hellacious feedback I’ve ever heard. The band (mercifully) came back out, but Page didn’t just pick up his guitar and move it away from the amp, no, that wouldn’t have been fucked up enough. Instead he strapped it back on (ha!) and continued to hold the head against the amp while the opening drumbeat from “Rude” pounded through my nearly decimated skull, and they followed that song with “Ironhead”, “Give It”, and “In the Meantime”, and I honestly didn’t care if I lived another moment after that, as it seemed unlikely that anything else could ever be so fucking fantastic.
The band left the stage, but Page stuck around for at least 10 minutes, signing autographs, shaking hands, telling stories, and posing for pictures with a lot of sweaty, stank-ass dudes. He was extremely nice, gracious, and funny, and he said that he loves playing Indianapolis because the energy from the crowd is always so amazing, and that even though they play to crowds 3-4 times larger in bigger cities, those crowds usually don’t seem to appreciate the shows as much. I will say that I personally unleashed at least 3 hearty “FUCK YEAH!‘s” during the course of the 2+ hours, and all the people around me seemed equally stoked, except for the girl directly next to me, who got shitty with a guy for bumping into her. Front row. At a Helmet show. She was an asshole, as was her li’l male companion, who apparently suffers from a severe case of Little-Man Syndrome.
All in all, it was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen…top 10, easily. Do not hesitate to catch them live on this tour if you get a chance. They’re playing in Louisville in two days, and I would definitely go to that one, too, if I wasn’t legitimately afraid I would end up in the hospital.
Highlights: The entire show was a highlight unto itself, although I wouldn’t have been angry if they’d played “Renovation” and at least one song from Size Matters. Also, meeting Page was rad (high school me would be jealous as fuck), those two brothers seemed pretty cool, and I finally got a badass new Helmet shirt, to replace the one I’ve had since I was 16.
“Biscuits for Smut”
“The Silver Hawaiian”
“Like I Care” (Aftertaste)
“Birth Defect” (Aftertaste)
“Welcome to Algiers” (Seeing Eye Dog)
“You Borrowed” (Meantime)
“On Your Way Down” (Monochrome)
“Murder” (Strap It On)
“Miserable” (Seeing Eye Dog)
“Exactly What You Wanted” (Aftertaste)
“Crisis King” (Aftertaste)
“Rude” (Strap It On)
“Give It” (Meantime)
“In the Meantime” (Meantime)
How could you not want to go to one of these shows? That’s a rhetorical question; you couldn’t not want to go.
That’s all for now. Stay heavy, y’all.