Sunday’s first mosh pit broke out as Page Hamilton took a slow and deliberate guitar solo near the conclusion of Helmet’s set at the RecordBar.
Men — many of whom were balding and graying — playfully pushed and shoved one another during Hamilton’s thoughtful statement on “Turned Out.”
The incongruous timing of the mild bout of violence typifies Helmet’s convoluted career. The band’s influence far eclipses its humble status as a cult act.
Led by guitarist and vocalist Hamilton, Helmet successfully fused the avant-garde noise of Sonic Youth with the metallic thrash of bands like Metallica in the early 1990s. Although the ensemble’s 1992 major label debut album sold more than a half-million copies, many of Helmet’s musical innovations were appropriated by more commercially viable artists.
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Hamilton, the sole remaining member of the original lineup, demonstrated that he remains one of the most ingenious guitarists in rock on Sunday. For an hour and 45 minutes, Hamilton proved that punk and metal are still viable templates for an imaginative musician.
Helmet is performing the entirety of the 1994 album “Betty” on its current tour. The band opened the show with a bracing rendition of the recording. Even though rabid fans in the capacity audience of about 250 knew what was coming, Hamilton’s dynamic solos were consistently surprising.
Hamilton’s improvisation on “Wilma’s Rainbow” evoked the experimental noise of his mentor Glenn Branca. He forcefully manipulated his guitar to elicit astounding feedback tones during “Tic.” After opening “Beautiful Love” with a lovely guitar passage in the vein of Jim Hall, the track exploded into an outburst of free jazz.
At the conclusion of the tracks from “Betty,” Hamilton expressed his profound admiration for Charlie Parker and said that he visited the jazz great’s grave earlier in the day.
While Hamilton’s jazz-informed solos failed to salvage a couple of the weakest “Betty” compositions, the final hour of Helmet’s performance contained fierce versions of the band’s strongest work. A brutal reading of “Repetition” and the monstrous riffing on “Unsung” provided liberating catharsis. Hamilton is a pedestrian vocalist, but he convincingly howled like an animal caught in a painful trap during “Rude.”
The night’s only awkward moment occurred when Hamilton mused about baseball. After he noted the success of the Royals, the New Yorker revealed his allegiance to the Yankees. The confession compelled a man to yell “shut up and play.”
Although he was initially taken aback by the vehemence of the response, Hamilton gracefully obliged.
Wilma's Rainbow; I Know; Biscuits for Smut; Milquetoast; Tic; Rollo; Street Crab; Clean; Vaccination; Beautiful Love; Speechless; The Silver Hawaiian; Overrated; Sam Hell; Swallowing Everything; (High) Visibility; In Person; Welcome to Algiers; Better; On Your Way Down; Unsung; Repetition; It’s Easy To Get Bored; Crisis King; Rude; Turned Out; In the Meantime.