Review and photos by Laina Dawes
I’m a newbie photographer and I’ll probably stick with concert photography for the rest of my life (or at least until I end up in a wheelchair, a walker or in a bed in a nursing home – if I’m so lucky). Because of this, Sunday night’s show at Lee’s Palace was a disappointment…..well, not really, because I had seen both LA’s Intronaut and Helmet before. I knew that, especially in the case of opener’s Intronaut (who were preceded by a local band whom I never got the name of, because a) they never said it until they were nearly off the stage; and b) because they were so underwhelming my eyes glazed over), I knew from their opening slot for the awesome Kylesa and Mastodon show last year, while they were exemplary in their musical pursuits, Intronaut were quite boring to watch.
But you know what? That is a-okay, because their new album, Valley of Smoke (release date: Tuesday, October 19) is amazing, and their musicianship is incredible – not everyone can…or want to be intricate and jump off of trampolines, ala Dragonforce, right? The sound was pretty good in the cavernous Lee’s Palace but more importantly, the vocal harmonies between guitarists / vocalists Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick were spot on, the music deftly alternating between these beautiful jazz interludes that were interspersed with bottom heavy riffage and the occasional blackened / death growls. Sounds weird, I’m not doing a great job at describing it, but it was amazing, unique and more importantly, it flowed pretty damn smoothly.
So the quartet is forgiven for the deterring the urge to head-bang and I think that the crowd, which was pretty impressive for a Sunday evening, was satiated with the knowledge that while the evening started off a bit more quiet and intense than some would have liked, to watch these guys at work, most notably bassist Joe Lester and drummer Danny Walker (Jesu, Bastard Noise) was a trip. Walker reminded me of Mastodon’s Brann Dailor, whose penchant for jazz fills sound, at times, like he is about to go off the rails – but at the turn of a dime, he sweeps back in, driving the rest of the band to the completion of the song. Absolutely, hands down, an incredible performer.
So the first hour was spent staring at awe at Intronaut and after they exited the stage, the natives got restless. I’d seen Helmet perform at least twice during the Grunge era in the early 90’s and besides owning one of their first CD’s ( and having an ex-boyfriend ‘borrow’ it and it disappearing from my collection forever), I hadn’t followed founder Page Hamilton’s musical career in over a decade. Many older folks, whom like me, had followed the band in their heyday filled the cramped quarters and waited in anticipation.
I wondered though, if anyone else was visibly shocked when Hamilton entered the stage. He was not only thin, he was gaunt. If it wasn’t for his deft guitar playing and strong, clear and commanding voice, I would have expected him to crumple onto the floor at any second. Shit man, this is what the music business can do to a feller. Anyway, the rest of the band, which was obviously new and somewhat energetic, had obviously practiced the set list front-to back. Bassist Dave Case was really into it, while rhythm guitarist Dan Beeman seemed to be more comfortable standing at the furthest edge of the stage as possible, nondescript and hiding his face underneath a baseball cap. Starting off with a couple of new tracks from their latest, including the title track of their latest, “Seeing Eye Dog” and “So Long” and a number of older tracks including off of 1992’s Meantime, including “Unsung,” “Role Model” and of course the fan favourite, “In the Meantime.”
The only complaint is that despite the energy of the crowd, the band was missing a spark. Everything seemed a bit too controlled, even though Hamilton, who seemed to be not only glad to be there but a lot more friendly than what I remembered from previous shows, bantered with the crowd. It was almost too professional and outside of a minor guitar glitch, too polished.
Much has been written about Hamilton who is not only a musical legend in the hardcore / metal scene of the late 80’s – 90’s but is also a perfectionist, and maybe because of that, there was no room for improvisation. But you know what? That’s a-okay, too. Despite frowning at my freshly uploaded photos at 1:00 in the morning cursing at the amount of pictures of talented musicians simply standing still, it was a great show and more importantly, Intronaut and Helmet graced us with their presence, something that seemed to be more important to the enthusiastic crowd than mindless head-banging.