Helmet Melts Faces In the Spirit of a Landmark Album
Photos by Jack Gorman
Helmet/Betty 20th Anniversary Tour Fitzgerald's March 4, 2015
No matter how many different descriptions have been used for Helmet's music, it all boils down to "heavy." The group's discombobulated intro of "Wilma's Rainbow" Wednesday evening, the veteran New York band transitioned into the dense bass line that hit the crowd and started the note-for-note playing of their 1994 album, Betty, in full. So began an evening in the company of the gentleman and scholar, Page Hamilton, and his accomplices.
Time and time again Helmet has bucked the way people expect them to sound, and Betty was no different. Instead of riding the industry wave of grunge's popularity, Helmet gave the world an album that was so diverse and ironic, right down to the subversive album cover that is has become a classic. Even today, Betty has spawned a 90-date European and North American tour 20 years after its original release.
The crowd was fully into the music and bobbed their heads to the monotone vocals and grooves belted out from an album they had all listened to countless times. A small pit opened up for "Milquetoast," but never became large enough to become bothersome to most patrons.
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During Hamilton's solos, he scrubbed the strings of his guitar as the crowd stood mesmerized by the discordant tones and riffs. His stance hunched over, his lanky body type bouncing to the beat with his legs apart, he seemed as if he could launch himself up to the second floor of Fitz at any moment.
Hamilton's first spoken words were, "Thank you very much" after the completion of "Sam Hell," the final track of Betty. More light banter on the stage revealed the fact that his bandmates were 17, 18 and 19 at the time Betty was released.
"If you don't like this lineup of Helmet then you don't like Helmet," he said. "These guys are excellent."
Then he teased a few riffs from ZZ Top's classic "La Grange."
"Billy Gibbons, what a badass," Hamilton said. "Man, we love your town."
After "Unsung," the front man set his guitar up against the speaker and played with his soundboard for a bit and then walking off, leaving the feedback as the only thing emanating from the stage. The crowd whistled and clapped for the return of Hamilton and the 'younguns.' They were genuinely excited to be playing to fans who love this music, but it had to end at some point.
"We have one more song for you guys," Hamilton said. "We always close with this song. It's 'Whole Lotta Love' off of Led Zeppelin II.'
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The band then preceded to melt the faces of everyone there with "In the Meantime." With the closing note, Hamilton put his guitar down and proceeded to engage fans at the front of the stage with the rest of the band. He seemed genuinely excited to be there with his fans, and signed as many autographs as they wanted. The time the band spent chatting up fans wound up close to the same amount as their 90 minutes onstage.
Hamilton talked to fans about his love for the arts, especially jazz music and getting to see live performances by Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Discussions ensued about how Green Day being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Joe Cocker is not and many other things as fans peppered him with various questions.
"Great musicians are humble and beautiful," he eloquently stated as he discussed his best moment as a music fan, relaying a story of how seeing jazz great Elvin Jones perform brought him to tears. Jones noticed his emotion and gave him a huge hug, and the hardened metal vocalist had tears in his eyes again as he shared this moment with fans. It was easy to see how Hamilton wants to provide similar experiences to his fans that he received from his heroes.
Personal Bias: Wore the cassette of Meantime out after watching Beavis and Butt-Head lose their minds over the "Unsung" video.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I got my Rockets tattoo on my ass 20 years ago too, when they won the championship. My kids tell me, 'Mom, it looks like a pizza tattoo.'" Her children were right.
Most interesting Merch Item: A piece of 24X20 abstract art entitled "Pursuance," which was created with more than 600 photographs of Hamilton playing a fretboard with a special glove producing vivid light with copper wires. The limited print is one of a series of six that Hamilton will be displaying in the near future; more of his work may be seen here.
SET LIST Wilma's Rainbow I Know Biscuits for Smut Milquetoast Tic Rollo Street Crab Clean Vaccination Beautiful Love Speechless The Silver Hawaiian Overrated Sam Hell Swallowing You Borrowed Repetition She's Lost Birth Defect Broadcast Unsung
ENCORE FBLA Like I Care Brand New In the Meantime
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