Thirty years ago, Page Hamilton formed the post-metal outfit Helmet in New York City. Their first release, Strap it On, only found some minor underground success, but caught the eye of Interscope Records, who signed the band in 1992. Later that year, the band released Meantime through their new label to much acclaim. The album was certified gold in 1994, the same year the band put out their landmark album, Betty – which is, obviously, the best album they’ve ever made and arguably one of the greatest albums of all time.
A few more albums, tons of touring, several line-up changes, a breakup, and a reunion has followed in those thirty years, with Page Hamilton remaining the only original member. This year, the band embarked on a 30th Anniversary Tour and I bought my ticket months in advance for the Omaha leg of the show.
On a chilly, November Friday, I made my way to the Slowdown to see the show, excited at the prospect of finally seeing one of my favorite bands ever play a killer show. What I didn’t know was that there was no opening act. With this show, I was going to see Helmet and nothing else, only furthering my excitement. I found my spot at the front of the stage – as is my modus operandi – and while I waited, I was able to snap a photo of the bitchin' setlist.
When the band took the stage, half an hour late but I ain't mad, I discovered I was standing directly in front of Page Hamilton, which was super-cool and gave me plenty of great photo ops. The band started off with “Role Model” from Meantime, setting the Helmet mood for the rest of the night. What followed were a nice assortment of Helmet tunes, accentuated with Page’s distinct dissonant and discordant guitar riffs and solos. He shredded so many times, that I'm surprised the stage survived intact. A few times he took the backplate of his guitar to play it that way, which was interesting because I've never seen anyone do that before.
The set was a 31-song masterpiece. After playing one of my favorites, ”Milquetoast”, Page set his guitar next to one of the giant speakers on reverb and the band exited the stage. Everyone started chanting, “Helmet! Helmet! Helmet!” except me, because I saw the setlist and knew they were coming back. So, yeah, they came back and played five more songs, ending the night with “In the Meantime”, the song that put them on the map.
I can only imagine that the band had to be exhausted after a set like that, but at nearly 60 years old, Page has the momentum of someone half his age. He needs it. Besides Helmet, he’s an accomplished jazz musician, gives lessons on guitar techniques, scores film soundtracks, and produces albums for other bands. After the finale, I bid adieu to Page and Co., bought a t-shirt, and headed home.
Thanks for thirty years of kicking ass, Helmet.