Concert Review: Helmet @ the Firebird 10/02/11

Helmet with Local St. Louis Bands at The Firebird

Matt Albers

            On a Sunday night in early October 2011, one of St. Louis’ smallest and most intimate venues was graced with the rare opportunity of 90s musical nostalgia when Page Hamilton’s now long-running hard alternative rock outfit Helmet played The Firebird. The sparse but enthusiastic crowd of dedicated fans witnessed a live performance that showcased a combination of musical talent and originality coupled with unfortunate rambling and awkwardness.

It must have been challenging to find local acts to open for a band as legendary and iconic among an almost cult-like fan base as Helmet. First to take the stage was Deep Thump, a three-piece whose sound seemed to combine alternative and funk with the stoner metal stylings of bands like Clutch or Mastodon. Next was Echo Bravo, who’s crunchy, post-hardcore style mirrored Helmet’s own sound to a certain point. The final local opening act was LucaBrasi, an alternative rock band with a sound that was familiar but fortunately not generic or repetitive. Unfortunately, their overall unoriginal sound combined with their overconfident stage presence tended to make them rather forgettable.

Still supporting their latest release, 2010’s Seeing Eye Dog, Helmet’s set consisted of old favorites throughout the night, including “Milquetoast,” “Exactly What You Wanted,” and opening with “Like I Care.” Of course, some of their biggest songs like “Tic,” “Sinatra” and “Unsung” were saved for their obligatory encore. Though his microphone volume was low throughout the night, front man Page Hamilton’s vocals were strong and thorough, but his guitar playing was what was most outstanding. Both his solid riffing and impressive solos were consistently entertaining and fulfilling for all fans among the unfortunately small crowd that evening, generally consisting of now middle-aged fans who had clearly grown up with Helmet’s music playing a substantial role of either their childhood, high school or college years. Hamilton’s guitar playing made any patron question why he hasn’t been so widely honored, recognized or regarded as an important contemporary musician within or outside of his genre over the years.

While Helmet’s performance at The Firebird was strong and fulfilling, and Hamilton’s newest band mates flawlessly supported the sound and live energy of Helmet’s songs, the live show was still flawed at some points, particularly with Hamilton’s stage presence. With the show competing on the same night as a St. Louis Cardinals home game against the Philadelphia Phillies, throughout the night, Hamilton would make references and quips related to the teams that would lead to rants on his opinions on the sports world. He would also go off on other rants on different topics during the few breaks in between songs, including his introduction and credit to his band mates and the old and now irrelevant history of the inspiration to “Sinatra.” The close proximity of fans due to the intimacy of the venue allowed for Hamilton to occasionally be drawn to conversation with fans during their set, including which playful banter and interaction led to him flubbing up some of his lines during “Unsung.” Though this unique interaction may have been cherished by both Hamilton and the given few fans, it took some of the fun out of the show for the rest of the crowd.

Helmet’s performance was noticeably flawed, stemming primarily from Hamilton’s apparently oblivious or almost senile attitude, which in turn may have been stemming from the tolls of old age. While the show was not perfect by any means, it did provide a unique experience to hear solid live performances of Helmet songs. However, the frequent negative points of Hamilton’s stage presence was enough to take most, if not all, concert-goers out of the experience, especially those seeing the band for the first time.

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