Helmet @ The Tivoli
- Helmet formed in New York in early 1989. Pivotal member and frontman (vox and guitar) Page Hamilton initially came to NYC to study a Masters in jazz, drifted into The Band Of Susans and shortly after took an extreme left turn and started up Helmet. A loooong way from jazz.org :)
Today, in 2023, Hamilton is the only original member of this amazing outfit that binds prog rock, metal, hardcore and a myriad of musical time signatures all in the same crystalline box. He never sits still. You get the distinct impression that he is a perfectionist from the Frank Zappa School of high standards and would not be an easy bandmate or conductor. He demands high standards of himself and those who venture with him.
Tonight's performance is yet another Covid replacement show and it's ironic, but this time delay meant the gig was shifted from The Zoo to The Tivoli. The place is packed and like clockwork the band walk on bang on 9:30 pm. There is no massive theatrical light-show, no diamond screens, just the band in jeans and shirts. Everyone plugs in, a cold grey light hangs over the stage like some eerie fog and then it starts up. The band sledgehammers into Milquetoast - “....Tell me if you think it's all right I'll give in to what you know / I don't see the habits that become me / I've saved up my useless thoughts ….”. The audience reply to “...Tell me if you think it's all right..” is definitely “f**k yes (oh yeah)".
Completely focused on the job at hand the band blast through Ironhead, Give it up, Blacktop and Rollo -amongst others- and only stop briefly after thirty minutes. The sound is perfect and you can feel every note. The crowd is enveloped in a combination of respect, reassurance and awe; the band drinks a bit of water and hammers on.
Unlike so many musical outfits with Helmet the music speaks for itself. They will never be as big as Coldplay but who cares? They play eleven tracks from their album Betty, two tracks from their first album Strap it on and five tracks from their killer second album Meantime.
Page returns to earth after an hour and has a few friendly chats with the crowd. This is the same genius I saw driving Helmet in Sydney, on their first tour. Since then Page has been doing film soundtracks and playing with other people and dropping his gifts into the works of others.
I got a very strong feeling tonight that over ninety-per-cent of the crowd got way more than they expected. The band play for a total of ninety-five minutes. I am still getting over hearing Unsung again. The band went off after Turned out and came back on for an encore playing Speechless, Sam Hell, Just Another Victim and a smashing version of In the meantime.
The band and Page hung about handing out song playlists and guitar picks and drum sticks and chattering with the punters. It was very telling that a large part of the crowd stayed around discussing the gig. You only see this when a band has had a really significant impact on that audience on that night.
With all the instability on earth these days it's very difficult to know when Helmet will once again catch an iron bird to the big island at the edge of the world where we live. Please make it soon.
- Don Gunn.