Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Helmet at the Bowery Ballroom

Page Hamilton
Raised in Medford, Oregon, Page Hamilton studied guitar at the University of Oregon before moving to New York in the early 1980s to study jazz guitar at the Manhattan School of Music. While there he played in avant-garde composer Glenn Branca's guitar orchestra and joined the noise rock band Band of Susans. Hamilton sought musicians through a classified advertisement in a New York newspaper and formed the successful alternative rock band Helmet in 1989. The band split in 1998, Hamilton relocated from New York to Los Angeles, California,  and in 2004 formed a new band and branded it with the same name. Hamilton is the sole remaining original member of Helmet. Fifteen musicians later, the band presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Hamilton, guitarist Dan Beeman, bassist Dave Case and drummer Kyle Stevenson. Helmet released seven studio albums, the most recent being 2010's Seeing Eye Dog.

Helmet launched a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band's third album, Betty, with three concerts in New York; two at the Bowery Ballroom and one at Saint Vitus. The band first performed the 14 tracks from Betty; curiously, they played the 45-minute album in 45 minutes. The band then played 16 additional songs spanning Helmet's career, focusing mostly on songs from the 1990s. Live, the songs were rawer and coarser than the recorded versions. Clipped block-chord riffs, minor keys, and drop-C and drop-D tunings produced super heavy, crunching rhythms. Accordingly, the rock-steady, low-rumbling metal grooves highlighted Hamilton's piercing guitar licks and his gravelly and sometimes monotone barks. Many of these grooves were mid-tempo or slow, punctuating rather than distracting from Hamilton's avant garde and jazz-inspired fretwork. For nearly two hours, this version of Helmet respectfully and impressively re-energized the earlier lineups' rich, abrasive and nearly-chaotic-sounding catalog.

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