|Venue:||Manchester Sound Control|
Somehow, Helmet ended up taking a portion the of blame for the rise of the kind of music that WWE wrestlers walk on to. Somehow, Big Black intensity, Iommi density and a jazz propensity nurtured dress-down day hoodies, poorly-applied eyeliner, half-hearted self-harm and a square of wet cement round the corner from my house emblazoned with the Korn logo. Some of this runtish litter have hung up their shorts; others have prospered, deservedly or otherwise, and drop-tuned angst echoes through yawning hangars of weak lager and jumbo hotdogs. And here we are in the loft of Manchester's compact Sound Control, with a faint aroma of stagnant hoover pipe as Page Hamilton and the current incarnation of the band revisit 'Meantime', on the 20th anniversary of Helmet's vaunted golden handshake. Around 200 souls, some reclaiming musical halcyon days, others grasping the chance to taste the real thing. It's perfect for a night like this: Nostalgic? Perhaps. Cynical cash-in? Hardly.
First come tour support Fighting With Wire, who whirl out a tight, frothy set of enjoyable Biffy-ish stompers. It's not a new sound, nor the kind of thing I usually go for, but their enthusiasm is infectious and the songs have an undeniable immediacy. They win over an initially hesitant midweek crowd, raising the temperature just enough for these urban clams to start opening up.
Helmet strap on unassumingly, and set the gritty hypnotics of 'Like I Care' in motion. After a couple of punkier, newer songs (including the unfortunate 'So Long' which utilises a whiny vocal twang I just can't get my head around ), they career in reverse order through 'Meantime' at a breathless pace; the gaps between most of the tunes are as long as on the album. The stop-start barbarism of 'Turned Out' is particularly head-kicking. Drummer Kyle Stevenson dictates the pace with precision, a 'roided-up octopus, and those familiar metallic snare hits give little opportunity to pine for the consummacy of the departed John Stanier (now of Battles). Beneath the taut bludgeon, Hamilton regularly coaxes acidic leads out of his ESP with economy of movement; rock's preeners would be raping the fretboard and pulling petit mort faces in reproducing this sound. By the time 'In The Meantime' finishes, this chilly garret has become a sweaty crucible.
“So what do you want to hear next?” Already hoarse, I scream pathetically for 'I Know'. That falls on deaf ears, and instead we get a great rendition of 'Street Crab', Hamilton teasing out that dinky blues intro then twisting the volume knob to set a mass of bodies rebounding off each other.
Attacked with the same vigour as the moment Helmet took the stage, 'Crisis King' and 'Wilma's Rainbow' draw things to a close, a pesky curfew scuppering any chance of the lengthier encores that have been played out in other European venues. Page Hamilton may be an elder statesman now, but he's not going through the motions here. With this kind of intent behind it, music doesn't get old, and theatrics aren't necessary. The band take the time to say thanks and shake hands with most of the front few rows before they head off. It's about as far from the tawdry excess of 'sports metal' as you can get.
Posted: Thu 5 April 2012