Review By Raelee Atkinson
Helmet have been described as the East Coast version of Seattle-based Soundgarden. They hit the scene at a time when music was changing and Grunge was on the cusp of being “the next big thing”. Formed by Page Hamilton in 1989, Oregon-born Hamilton was living in New York studying jazz, and wanted to form a band with then “unusual tunings” like drop D, and use jazz-influenced time signatures and harmonies. This all seems like the norm now, and we have Page Hamilton to thank for introducing us to these ideas. Helmet are considered to be alternative metal/post hardcore. They have that punk-y style of writing short 3 minute songs bursting full of energy and attitude with a grunge undertone. They have recorded and released eight full-length albums and been featured on several movie soundtracks, most notably The Crow and Judgement Night, a popular soundtrack with an unorthodox mash up of hard rock and rap, performing with Irish rappers, House Of Pain on the popular track, Just Another Victim.
This tour was originally due to happen back in May 2020 - well, covid put an immediate stop to that, and they are finally here, three years later.
First night of the Australian tour, Helmet played at The Cambridge Hotel in my hometown, Newcastle.
Upon arriving at the Cambo, I was met with a sea of bald heads, grey beards and black t-shirts. Yep, looks like the right place and I thought, Helmet fans are loyal to the end, my next thought was, GenX is in the house, this should be an interesting night. All these middle-aged men were youngsters when they discovered this band and have continued to love them all this time. To me, that speaks volumes to the impact and influence of an artist or band, and Helmet was certainly influential in many ways.
8PM doors opened and the room filled quickly, an impressive turn out for a “school night”, and everyone braced themselves for the show. No support band, it's all about Helmet tonight. Just after 9PM Helmet entered the stage and went straight into one of their popular songs from their 1992 Meantime album, Role Model, followed by Iron Head during which he flipped his middle finger for someone up the front taking photos, then by Give It, the crowd were warmed up and bouncing and nodding together. Then it was time for Rollo, up the front a fight broke out during Speechless, continuing through So Long, and while they played from the Dead To The World album, Drunk In The Afternoon, security finally dragged one guy out leaving the other guy to continue by punching someone else during the Strap It On opening track, Repetition, I chuckled to myself and remembered similar nights back in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s, back before moshpits became friendly and respectful and were more like a night at fight club. Then a guest guitarist came on to play on the Betty album track, Wilma's Rainbow.
Nine songs deep and Hamilton had not spoken to the crowd, and when he finally did, it was to announce that upon arriving in Newcastle, he'd stepped in vomit, which is kind of the Newy version of having a bird poop on you, so he should consider it a good luck sign. Hamilton continued his repartee by describing the scent of the Cambridge as “what is that? butt?”. Then he introduced guest guitarist Chris Haskett, best known for playing in The Henry Rollins Band as an “old friend who he’d toured with way back in 1994, before you were born”. I wondered if Hamilton was joking, does he not know his fanbase? Surely he can see that we have all grown older with him. I scanned the crowd quickly and guessed that 99% of the audience were born between 1970 and 1985. After the brief chit-chat, where Hamilton also mentioned that they were working on a new album, it was back to the music and the band went straight into their 2010 album Seeing Eye Dog track, Welcome To Algiers, followed by rocker Better, moving straight into FBLA II, then slow grunger Overrated, followed by Vaccination, and at last the much-loved massive hit, Unsung. I looked around and everyone was dancing, nodding and singing along. As the band finished, someone yelled out, “play it again” before Hamilton stopped to chat with the audience again. He introduced each member of the band and then drummer Kyle Stevenson led the band into I Know, followed by 2016’s Life Or Death, then Tic, and rounding the set out with the Betty album and The Crow soundtrack hit, MilqueToast.
Helmet walked off stage leaving a guitar playing a distorted feedback sounding note and the audience waited patiently for about 3 minutes and then Helmet reammerged to play the encore set of Sam Hell, Turned Out and ended the show with In The Meantime which had the whole audience singing along. Helmet left the stage as quietly and unassuming as they entered, and the show was over… just like that!
This tour was originally advertised as “30 Years, 30 Songs over 2 massive hours of unrelenting guitar rock nirvana”. Well, it's been tweaked a little since covid’s interruption, to 23 songs, but it's still a massive, unrelenting rock show of hits and much-loved songs, and clocks in at around one hour 45 mins.
Helmet play a high octane set that chugs along mostly with tracks from the Meantime and Betty albums. It is a grunge-y, rock-y, kinda punk-y retrospective that takes the audience back to their heyday in the mid to late 1990’s. However, there's a whole chunk of their discography that gets surpassed with only one track from 2010 and two tracks from their last album, released in 2016 being added to the retro-strong playlist. This tour seems to be aimed at the OG fanbase and it is a great night out if you were around “back in the day” and want to re-live the “good ole times”. As long as you avoid that one angry drunk monkey, the crowd is mostly middle aged men and the odd wifey and they are all just there for the tunes and the memories. My brother and I enjoyed the show thoroughly and recommend checking out the Helmet tour to anyone who loves that 90s grunge rock sound.