Friday Night: Toadies, Helmet & Ume at House of Blues

Toadies, Helmet, Ume House of Blues July 20, 2012

The '90s were in high demand in Houston on Friday night. Up in The Woodlands, the Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, Cracker and more packed 'em in to relive some of the decade's best one-hit wonders.

Downtown, the Clinton-era jams were a little harder. Texas' alt-rock kings, the Toadies, rolled into House of Blues on a co-headlining tour with Helmet, and they brought Austin's Ume along with them. If you'd seen any of these bands before, you knew this was a hot ticket.

Ume's set at Free Press Summer Fest was one I was disappointed to miss, so it was great to see them back in town again so soon. One of the best bands that Houston has lost to the brighter lights up 290 in the last few years, the three-piece fronted by guitar-shredding dreamgirl Lauren Larson came ready to make some new fans. It was nice to see the venue already full when they went on.

It wasn't the '90s that Ume's set brought to mind, but the late '70s. On studio tracks like "Captive" and "Rubicon," Ume pulls off a glistening indie-pop sound gentle enough to land the group on the soundtrack of The Vampire Diaries. Their live sound is much thicker, like Black Sabbath covering a Smashing Pumpkins tune. They're a power trio, complete with smokin' guitar solos and trashcan endings. It's a righteous sight to behold.

As the petite Larson stomped around the stage and threw her hair wildly, the sound coming out of the band's vintage amps reminded me of early Rush, as if the Canadian progsters had never left the garage for outer space. When I went to check out Ume's merch after the set, there was a line. These three are definitely on their way up.

Like the Toadies, Helmet has been actively touring and recording of late after a period of inactivity following the band's '90s salad days. Bandleader Page Hamilton has trotted a number of lineups into the studio and out on the road over the past eight years, recording three albums in the process. The last time I caught them in 2004, Anthrax's Frank Bello was on bass.

On Friday night, Old Man Hamilton turned up with a band of young ringers that packed an impressive punch into Helmet's metallic, hardcore-inflected rock. The group opened with the crushing "Swallow Everything" from 2006's Monochrome, and the young rhythm section quickly proved to be just as rock-ribbed as the band's classic '90s lineup.