In 1992, New York–based alt-metal band Helmet released its major-label debut, Meantime, which featured the single “Unsung.” The song’s video was in heavy rotation on MTV. The following year, Helmet released Betty, an album that was felt by many listeners to be too experimental, a difficult listen.
“It seems like every time we put out an album it’s the same thing: ‘I was a big fan of Strap It On. Meantime is too light.’ I’m, like, ‘Okay, sorry.’ Then, ‘I was a big fan of Meantime, Betty is too weird,’” Helmet guitarist/vocalist Page Hamilton explained to the Reader via phone.
Betty will reach legal drinking age on June 21. If you skipped the original Betty tour when you were young, dumb, and full of under-developed musical tastes, you are in luck. Helmet is playing the entire album on their current tour, including a stop at Belly Up on April 29.
- Wednesday, April 29, 2015, 8 p.m.
Belly Up Tavern,
143 S. Cedros Avenue,
$18 - $32
“The Betty tour has been good as far as the turnouts from London, Brussels, to New York and Chicago. It’s good for us. It’s fun for me to play these songs from a 21-year-old album that I got shit for when it came out because it wasn’t Meantime Part II,” Hamilton explained.
Before Helmet, Hamilton spent a couple of years playing with the New York–based noise-rock group Band of Susans. At the time, Hamilton was fresh out of the Manhattan School of Music where he studied jazz guitar. A jazz-head at the time, Hamilton was introduced to the world of indie rock through the Susans, including groups that would dabble in drop-tunings, such as Wire. At first, Hamilton veered away from the alternative tunings since he would have to “re-learn the guitar,” but this all changed late one night when he was heading home and got a riff stuck in his head.
“I got home at, like, four in the morning...I picked up the guitar and the low notes that I was hearing were off the guitar. I’m hearing this D, but I can’t play it. So I thought, How about I tune the string down?? And then it was, like, Oh, my god! I can play this power chord with one finger and do other shit! That’s kind of how the whole vocabulary revealed itself to me that night.”
According to Hamilton, the first time Helmet played San Diego was on a West Coast tour with Tad. Helmet was supporting their debut album, Strap It On. This would have been circa 1989–1990. Even then, California was lucky that Hamilton would visit, after an incident in his youth left a bad impression.
“We went to Escondido, it’s where my relatives are,” Hamilton explained. “We were kids in the family station wagon coming down from Oregon. We did the big California trip...probably 1972 or something like that. I thought my cousin was kind of a dick because we got McDonald’s and he ate the extra burger rather than sharing it with his cousins. I thought, All these California kids are really fucking selfish. We would never do that! [laughs].”