Helmet @ The Rosemount Hotel
Monday, April 24, 2017
American hard rock band, Helmet, returned to Perth on an ANZAC day eve for a Monday night set of heavy guitar-driven rock delivered with precision and power.
Helmet is essentially lead guitarist, singer and songwriter Page Hamilton’s project, being the only constant member since their 1990 debut, Strap It On. Their second album from 1992, Meantime, put Helmet into the thick of 90s alternative guitar band ascendency, carving out a different line from contemporaries such as Dinosaur Jr., the Seattle grunge bands and more technically-minded experimental bands like Slint and Sonic Youth.
The Betty LP from 1994 was the feature of tonight’s “Don’t Look Back”-style performance at the Rosie. What set Helmet apart then was a very heavy, stripped-down sound featuring overdriven guitars with gated riffs and a ton of swagger… and these guys had short hair and wore baseball caps and tennis shoes! Indeed, the 1994 Australian tour of Betty paired Helmet with fellow New Yorkers the Beastie Boys on their Ill Communication tour, a sign of their indifference to boundaries and scenes at the time, instead focusing strictly on the riffs and the music.
Tonight’s gig featured Helmet only (no supports) in the newly remodelled Rosemount Hotel. Finally the massive space-eating bar in the centre of the room has been ripped out and relocated to the windows along Angove Street. This could be a key a development for the venue and the Perth live music scene as the Rosie will hopefully pick up the slack of the gap left by the closing of the Bakery which had the capacity to cater to the larger alternative rock and electronic music acts. Another new feature is a large metal stage barrier, giving the main floor a mosh-pit like feel.
Just after 9pm the band took up their instruments and launched straight into Betty opener Wilma’s Rainbow, and essentially did not stop for banter, breaks or beer until the album was concluded. The no frills presentation of the album suited the tracks well. Helmet’s sound is akin to a curvy muscle car – heavy, but built for movement with sinewy bass and guitar lines. Hamilton and the young band showed off their technical prowess during the night, as the tunes demand the band plays tight and pack a wallop.
Drummer Kyle Stevenson whacked the skins and cymbals like a man possessed, more than filling legendary original drummer John Stanier’s shoes for the Betty tracks. Hamilton led the charge with shredding guitar solos and vicious shrieks on the mic that still carry a bite. Highlights included heavy hitters such as Milquetoast, Biscuits for Smut and Tic, which all got the front of house moving and the heads nodding throughout the venue. The second half Betty is somewhat more uneven than the first half (or is this because the first half is so good?). Accordingly, live there was a noticeable drop in energy, but the crowd was up for the journey with punters in the front mouthing the words and some spirited fist-pumping for the big choruses.
After the final notes of twangy blues-style closer Sam Hell faded away, the band finally took a deserved break with Page Hamilton breaking into a big smile and giving his band a hand while introducing them emphatically. He thanked the crowd, added a small apology for missing Perth the last Australian tour, and the hard-working young band was finally able to take a slug of the Coopers provided (a diss from Hamilton unfavourably comparing the pale ale to American beer elicited a small chorus of good-natured boos). A bit of chatter and humour during the short break dissipated some of the seriousness of the performance of Betty, giving the audience time to reset from the pleasurable onslaught of sound as well.
The band then embarked on what was to be over an hour of songs, several from the 2016 album, Dead to the World, and the big songs from their essential 90s albums. Songs from 1997’s Aftertaste featured Like I Care, Birth Defect and a surprise guest – Perth resident Jimmy Thompson who toured with the band in the 2000s. Thompson rotated in for a one song on rhythm guitar, playing with intensity and receiving a big thanks from the crowd and the band, especially Hamilton who delighted in playing again with an ex-Helmet member.
The band appeared to be feeling loose and kept extending the set, including the encores. The evening concluded with Meantime tracks Unsung and the title track to close out the evening in style. In contrast to the head-down performing of Betty at the beginning of the evening, at the end the band smiled, shook hands and talked to the audience after over two hours of performing. Hopefully Helmet won’t miss Perth on their next tour as Monday’s show was a thrill for fans of 90s alternative guitar rock in a beloved venue with a fresh new space to experience live music.
Photos by Elspeth Erickson Photography