Helmet @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – 7th April 2012

Tonight’s show for grown-ups has been moved from the Library to the Temple Bar on the top floor of the Institute due to poor ticket sales, whilst some teeny bopper draw called Cher Lloyd entertains the youth in the main room; instantly making me question the state of the nation. However, the more intimate venue fills up quickly and adds something to the atmosphere.

First band on stage are the Irish trio, Fighting With Wire, who have supported a number of big name rock acts including Biffy Clyro and InMe and, after the Helmet tour, they are playing dates with Twin Atlantic. As they launch into their opening track, you can tell they are a professional collective playing Jimmy Eat World inspired melodic hardcore, that incorporates all the required elements such as vocal harmonies and clashing chord progression. As their set continues, other obvious musical influences become more transparent including the vocal style of Zach De La Rocha at certain points, which presents the sense that Fighting With Wire are still wrestling with their own individual take on the genre. Saying that though, the crowd respond positively, despite them appearing lightweight in comparison to what I am expecting from the headline act, and, if I remember rightly, Helmet fans do not suffer musical fools gladly. Needless to say respect is increased with the band’s unreserved slating of Cher Lloyd.

Helmet are here to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their most popular album, Meantime, by playing it in its entirety in reverse. As we are reliably informed by Page Hamilton, vocalist and only founding member left, due to the complex drumming patterns on the album, Kyle Stevenson needs to get himself warmed up, so they start with Like I Care. Immediately the heaviness that was desperately missing from the support act explodes throughout the venue, resulting in the obligatory head nodding of appreciation amongst the majority of the crowd. Before they continue the set with So Long, Hamilton also takes the opportunity to embrace the anti-Cher rhetoric that has been flowing but confusing the Cher of Lloyd with the Cher of Sonny and that adds to the amusement and camaraderie that is building between the band and the assembly. The trio of warm up songs lead beautifully into Meantime, starting at the end with Role Model which sees the audience fully embrace the musicianship of the band.

After not listening to Meantime for quite a while, I had forgotten how technically complicated and challenging it is to play and yet Helmet take it all in their stride relaying the intricacy with enthusiasm and power. Despite the raucous and angry nature of Helmet’s music, there is a melodic and delicate edge which is impeccably communicated through the use of dynamics and changing time signatures. During the set, Hamilton engages with the audience in a jovial manner retelling stories and resulting in the most cockney sounding impression of Ozzy ever heard. Each track is welcomed but the level of admiration and enjoyment noticeably rises with Turned Out and erupts with a faster version of Unsung, the crowd’s fervour is sustained until the last note of In The Meantime.

As the band swiftly exit the stage, the unrelenting nature of Helmet’s album has clearly stood the test of time and does not sound musically dated which in part is the sign of great writing but also the commanding delivery demonstrated in their live performance. The band return to the stage after a brief intermission, asking for suggestions from the crowd that leads to Hamilton to mock a couple getting married but indulges them with a rendition of Pure, followed by the mesmeric Wilma’s Rainbow and finishing with Bad Mood. Having not seen Helmet live since the late 1990’s, sandwiched inappropriately between the awful nu-metalness of Limp Bizkit and Korn, it seems inexplicable that they did not achieve a higher level of recognition for their unique and well-crafted brand of hardcore (if that is, indeed, the right label for them). Furthermore, I left with a ringing in my ears, feeling twenty years younger with an urge to trample over the Cher Lloyd merchandise on the street outside and tell all the teeny boppers to reconsider their aural choices and start listening to music that matters.

Review – Toni Woodward

Photos – Andy Watson

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