Photography by Jon Hadusek and Michael T. Nullmeyer
Helmet had a case of the Mondays, and so did everyone else.
The band is touring their 1994 magnum opus, Betty, playing the album in its entirety in celebration of the 20th anniversary. It’s a record of the ’90s alt-rock canon, cathartic and heavy, combining syncopated metal riffs and Page Hamilton’s bummer poetry. Every song flows into the next; one song is sung melodically, the next with a harsh scream. To me, it always sounded like a breakup album and never struck me as music one would slamdance or even headbang to. It’s too heady.
But even still, The Waiting Room was cold and dead, half-full and half-interested. Kicking off with “Wilma’s Rainbow”, the catchiest and arguably best song on the album, Helmet captured the audience’s attention but not its enthusiasm. I myself was not necessarily reacting physically to the song, but the lame applause afterward gave me the impression the crowd just wasn’t feeling it. Helmet ran through the A-side of the record without stopping. The mix was extremely clean, loud but not affecting. Nothing jumped out at me, not the guitar, not the vocals (Hamilton looked tired), not the perfectly accurate drumming.
Betty is an intimate record, and it just didn’t translate at The Waiting Room, which is the size of a standard bar only that the ceiling is raised extremely high. There were a fair amount of people at this show, but it still felt empty because of the wide-open space above. Helmet played Betty like they’ve done it thousands of times, offering up little variation from the studio recording outside of extended guitar-noise freak-outs. It is not a fun album, and the mostly intense abrasion wasn’t working on a dulled crowd. Everybody seemed too tired or too stoned. Only “Speechless”, the pop song on the album, got any major reception. Helmet then played a second set consisting of choice cuts from the rest of their catalog, and nobody reacted to those either. Hamilton’s banter was about the weather. The band wearily played staple cuts “Better” and “Unsung” to a few hoots and hollers.
It didn’t feel like a classic album was being celebrated that night. It was a Monday, the venue was super awkward, and the crowd lifeless. Helmet played Betty and some other songs and got the hell out of Nebraska. Can’t blame them.
Set 1: Betty
Biscuits for Smut
On Your Way
See You Dead