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METALSUCKS AT SXSW: HELMET

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hoek’s pizza

HELMET @ RED 7 – 4:30 P.M., Thursday, March 13

One of my all-time favorite top 10 records is Helmet’s Meantime. I have not seen Helmet since back in their heyday when they tore through San Antonio, Texas in support of their not quite as impressive but still excellent follow-up Betty back in 1994. They played the old Showcase along with Therapy? and San Antonio industrialists Evil Mothers.

I cannot say I am a huge fan of Helmet’s work in later years, especially Page Hamilton’s higher pitched vocal stylings. The scratchy baritone he displayed on Meantime is easily one of my favorite vocal styles in all of metal. As a result, a part of me was hesitant, yet excited to see Helmet again for the first time in fourteen years.

As I arrived at Red 7, the set time had been moved back from 4:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. No worries, as the delay allowed me time to dine on some fine death metal pizza from Hoek’s Pizza right outside the club. Not often you get to hear Cannibal Corpse and Slayer blaring from the speakers while dining on some fine EYE-talian pie via Texas.

Time to head back into Red 7. Interesting layout as the bands play on a corner stage. Nice open area that holds a couple hundred uncomfortably. As I turned the corner and walked toward the stage, I spotted the man himself, Page Hamilton, schlepping his own gear onstage. No roadies, no house crew doing it for him; just Page and the rest of the members of Helmet performing their yeoman duties. Impressive.

I remember Page as very serious last time I saw him. This time, he could not have been more different. He appeared relaxed and was having fun chatting with members of the audience before their set began. Drummer Kyle Stevenson saw a couple of friends who came to the front of the stage to share warm wishes. It all seemed very friendly and laid back.

That vibe continued when as Helmet seemed ready to kick out the jams, Page greeted the crowd and gave a shout-out to New Jersey, of all places. But this was no Spinal Tap “We love you, Cleveland,” moment.

Apparently, a couple from the Garden State are considered to be the most hardcore Helmet fans in existence since they fly from city to city to watch the band play. The couple just so happened to be in Austin on this particular day. Page welcomed them up on stage and raised his hands above his head to exhort the crowd to show some love.

The man of the couple decided to show some love of his own as he knelt down on one knee in front of his female companion. She screamed, “Ah, hell no!” and flipped him the bird. The entire crowd erupted into cheers as he asked her to marry him. She continued to flip him off, so the crowd started yelling at her. She relented, said “yes,” and the whole club lit up. Page was beaming almost as much as the couple. After giving them both hugs and kisses, Page laughed as he told the crowd she had no idea that was going to happen. The band then kicked into “Swallowing Everything.” Great start to a fun set.

Helmet continued to power through some of their more recent material and, I hate to say, I started to drift a little bit. I just can’t quite seem to dig into the newer songs with Page’s higher register singing.

Instead of bemoaning that fact, I instead focused in on Stevenson who was solid behind the kit. He has a bit of a lazy eye which adds an extra level of dementedness to his already spastic, yet tight, performance. He also has a penchant for Steve Harris-like mouthing of the words while Page sings, which I found highly entertaining.

Thankfully, by the fourth song, Page announced “we’re gonna do some songs we haven’t done in awhile.” Again, the crowd voiced its approval with loud screams. Page added, “Hey, it’s not so easy to do now that I’m in my 60’s.” The crowd laughed before he amended his statement with, “Okay, I’m in my 40’s.”

Cue “In the Meantime” and Red 7 went ballistic. I have not seen so many smiles on a metal crowd’s face since, well, Motorhead busted out “Ace of Spades” a couple of hours earlier.

Helmet had a great time on stage. New guitarist Dan Beeman (as in he’s only been with the band for a matter of weeks) accepted beers from a grateful fan while Page accepted his own Texas-based Shiner Bock brew from another appreciative music lover. Bassist Jon Fuller was simply happy to drink water in the sweltering hotbox of a venue. They needed their liquid refreshment as they pumped out solid takes on “Ironhead,” “Give It,” and “Wilma’s Rainbow.”

Helmet ended the set with a blistering rendition of “Better” which Page prefaced with, “the words in this song make no sense, so if I fuck them up it won’t matter.”

As long as Helmet stuck to the older material, there was definitely nothing fucked up about their performance. Overall, an excellent afternoon gig from a band to whom most 21st century metalcore bands owe a huge debt of gratitude.

My ‘90s metal fix sated, and with the later-than-scheduled starting time, it was obvious I was going to miss the MTV Metal Mansion at the Walter Bremond Mansion with Children, Saviours, and Witch, but that’s par for the course during SXSW.

Schedule thirty bands, be happy to see fifteen.

Instead, I opted for a shower back at Raydog’s casa so I would be ready for the final marathon of the night…Vvervvolf Grehv, Genghis Tron, Coliseum, Municipal Waste, and High on Fire (for the second time in one day). Read my review of that show here, and view my photos here.

-CM

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