Helmet – Tuning Fork: April 14, 2023 (Concert Review)

Helmet

Helmet finally made it back to Aotearoa/New Zealand on a tour postponed from 2019 by you know what, to present an evening of thinking person’s heavy music aka hardcore, punk and metal.

If you were born before 1975, then you might remember one of the most momentous concerts of music history in Aotearoa, when The Beastie Boys and Helmet double-billed shows in Tāmaki Makaurau and Pōneke/Wellington in 1994. Most recently, Helmet was here in 2017, where the audience did their best impersonation of canned sardines at The Galatos Theatre.

Helmet

It all began in 1989 when the sole remaining foundation member Page Hamilton left his former band, Band of Susans to study jazz guitar in the Big Apple, and additionally created Helmet (though Helmuth the actual suggestion would’ve been cooler) with a bunch of guys including an Australian, and released an album Strap It On that saved super-cool American Indie label Amphetamine Reptile Records from bankruptcy in the 1990s. When Helmet signed to a major and released Meantime in 1992, it all got super-huge over the next few years.

Jump 31 years and tonight Helmet (Page Hamilton plus current band members Kyle Stevenson (drums, bvs) since 2006), Dan Beeman (rhythm guitar, bvs) since 2008 and Dave Case (bass, bvs) since 2010 are presenting the “Best Of Helmet 1989-2023 New Zealand Tour” a  “career-defining songs and all-time fan favourites, a complete evening of essential music from one of heavy music’s most essential bands.”

Helmet

As in 2017, there was no support act, replaced by a promise of two hours exclusively of Helmet, bang on 9pm there is a surge of manoeuvring in the sold out venue room, and without a fuss, Helmet launch.

Right of the bat, they kick off with Role Model (Meantime) setting the expectations high for the audience, who are polite in swaying, respectfully responding, onstage, though Page Hamilton experienced ‘technical difficulties’ as he struggles to get the sound he wants from his guitar, and being a master (jazz) guitarist, it has to be just right. The struggle is real and continues through the second song Renovation (Aftertaste), but we/he is getting closer, and as the opening riffs of Wilma Rainbow (Betty) fill the room, well this acts as a trigger and the audience explodes as this seemingly extended version is riddled with Page Hamilton’s virtuoso guitar work, lead metal but a slightly discordant Helmet brand of lead metal guitar work.

Onstage Page Hamilton dominates the vision, even though he stands (looms) audience right, this giant (he’s bloody tall) looks (ruggedly handsome) like  Riff Raff from Rocky Horror (but minus the hair), most eyes are on him.

Helmet

 

As the moshpit continues in throws and ructions, Helmet create a wall of symphonic hardcore + Pages lead-metal. Blacktop (Strap It On) is followed by Street Crab (Betty), Give it (Meantime) once again sets the world alight, it gets feisty up front. A newish song Bad News from 2016’s Dead To The World album, fits in nicely. Unsung (Meantime) comes early, as the few youth at the show (though more than at many retrospective shows usually have) dominate the moshpit, the band are clinical in its playing, Pages’s lyrics juxtapose his 63 years with the now “Die young is far too boring these days”

Finally Page chats with the audience, happy to be back, about rescheduling this tour four times and playing with a band called The Exploited in Lima Peru (their last show before tonight’s effort) Algiers (Seeing Eye Dog), another post-heyday song from their 2010 album, (re)launches the spectacle.

Helmet

In the second act of the night (and the show tonight seems to be carefully planned into four tidy acts (I saw the setlist which I hope is in the photos – Marty) Again the is no timeline, as songs flow across the bands’ albums, noticeable though, the other members of the band, especially rhythm guitarist Dan Beeman and bassist Dave Case come to the forefront and attempt to draw off the audience’s obsessive gaze away from Page.

As act two ends on Ironhead (Meantime) the banter, returns as a band member asks for a battery, Page generously, with geographic references, introduces the band and reflects about coming back in 6 or 7 years when he’s 70. Act three is a set of four punchy songs, I’m staying. It was those that were there, the favoured few (the show sold out and demand was not sated) Boy that version of Turned Out (Meantime) wow!

Helmet leave the stage after about 90 mins as the audience chant during the expected faux ending. They return like Chachapoyas, with three stunners, Milquetoast (Betty), Just Another Victim (Judgement Night soundtrack) and finish on the song that had been missing all night long, In The Meantime (Meantime) The mosh pit erupts, crowd surfing appears (big guy!)  and even a cursory stage invasion, (same surfer guy), but he politely leaves, and I’m sure I saw Page Hamilton smirk a little) Helmet definitely saved their best for last.

Simon Coffey

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Brenna Jo Gotje:

Simon Coffey