Heavy rock luminaries Helmet are playing their esteemed 1994 record Betty on their current tour, and hit the Independent in San Francscio on May 6th. The band are actually playing two sets a night, with the first set being Betty run from beginning to end, followed by a second set of newer songs and old favorites.
It’s a bit hard to belive Betty is old enough to buy a drink now. But the old girl holds up pretty well compared to any current hard rock, probably because most hard rock today has strands of Helmet DNA somewhere in its makeup. Singer/guitarist Page Hamilton plays and sounds about the same, with both his guitar and voice as deep and as fierce as ever, and the band did a remarkable job recreating the effects and feedback on the record live. From the first screeching tones of “Wilma’s Rainbow,” the crowd knew they were in for a treat.
Just as impressive was Hamilton’s solo, stripped down take on closer “Sam Hell.” It’s easy to forget, what with the deafening, bulldozing, heavy shredding, but Hamilton is a trained jazz guitarist, and showed off some of his old jazz chops during the night as well. It adds some added enjoyment when a musician of his magnitude chooses to rock and heavy and loud as Hamilton does.
There have been some gripes from the more hardcore Helmet fans about this particular lineup of Helmet, notably the absences of drummer John Stanier and bassist Henry Bogdan, and while they are missed (particularly Stanier’s 7-ft high crash cymbal), the current lineup tore through Betty without missing a step.
Speaking of missing a step, San Francisco remains home to some of the worst stage divers in the world. Or, more accurately, some of the best stage lower-yourself-slowy-into-the-crowd-ers.