While scores of sexy cats and painted faces prowl the streets of North London, it’s clear no-one in the O2 Academy received the memo, and tonight’s show is a sanctuary from the Halloween masquerade outside.
Within these walls there is only one thing that matters and only one band on the bill: Helmet.
Released in 1994, Betty found its way into many a teenager’s CD collection - including my own - and twenty years later Helmet are touring Europe playing the album in full. Since their inception in 1989, members have come and gone, causing many fans to abandon their faith in singer Page Hamilton’s project. It would be fair to say that many ardent fans might consider the current line-up as a mockery of the quartet that originally played on Betty - former drummer John Stanier was, and to many of us still is, the most loved musician spawned from Helmet’s success - but despite the doubters, the venue is swarming by the time Helmet’s current formation walk out on stage.
They open with Wilma’s Rainbow, the first track on Betty which just so happens to be one of their most recognisable songs. The creamy guitar and crack of the snare are both instantly reminiscent of Helmet’s early ‘90’s sound but Hamilton’s once smooth vocal tones have undoubtedly suffered with the passing of time. I Know, is one of the more aggressive vocal performances and the gravelly howls of the original are metamorphosed into downright screaming. Efforts to preserve the production nuances from the studio are best demonstrated in Biscuits for Smut which sees Hamilton singing through a fifties style transmitter set up alongside a more conventional microphone. The result is that familiar distorted and tinny effect heard on the original recordings.
From start to finish the audience absorb the complex guitar rhythms and heavy grooves. Their reaction to tracks like Milquetoast and Street Crab is the kind of ‘90’s slam pit that used to send me crashing around the place when I was a teenager going to shows…except there are no teenagers tonight: the flailing arms and barging shoulders belong to thirty year old men leaving their grown-up problems in the cloak room and regressing to that stage in life where music was all you cared about.
After Betty is played in its entirety, the set takes in songs old and new including the highly influential Unsung from the 1992 album Meantime. “We’re gonna play the first half of Aftertaste just because we can,” announces Hamilton which gets an ecstatic response. We travel back to 1997 for a few songs and the set culminates in the anthemic Driving Nowhere. A wall of feedback consumes the room as Helmet exit the stage. The swell of guitars grow angrier and before long the four musicians return for their encore taking requests from the audience. They end the night with In The Meantime and after two hours of solid riffing we’re left to fend for ourselves as we reconnect with the present and the carnival of horror that awaits us outside.