Thursday, December 4, 2014

Running Wild in Brantford...A Helix Concert Review

Well, a night of oddities and anomalies has just dropped itself upon the ole Meister!  Make no mistake however, for the most part that's a good thing.  Allow me to elaborate some.  For anyone that has read my ramblings previously you'll know that a rather long trek (usually via public transit) to a concert gig is not out of the ordinary for me by any means, but that's where I begin my story for today.  While at another awesome live music event and subsequent drinking experience at Decibel Geek photographer Brian Ronald's house in October (Halloween to be precise) he asked me if I would be coming out to Helix.  Totally unaware that there was an impending Helix gig, I enthusiastically responded with a "Hell yeah!".  The Helix gig in question was to take place on Friday, November 28, 2014 in Brantford, a three hour public transit venture for me.  I began to chat about the event around work over the following weeks as I was quite excited to be seeing Helix again, not having seen them since 2013's Monsters of Rock Cruise.

Anomaly #1: Two co-workers began to express an interest in coming with me to the show!  Serious?  Rarely does anyone outside of my circle enjoy my musical tastes, but it turns out they were dead serious.

Since they are also from my home town of Newmarket, Ontario their attendance would also be saving approximately two hours of public transit travel time.  Excellent!  That's where the trouble began.....we set out in plenty of time, planning on having dinner somewhere in Brantford prior to the event.  En route we encountered horrendous traffic like I've never seen before, turning a 1.5 hour drive into nearly 3.5!  The public transit game would actually have been faster!  Finally after pit-stops and the assistance of Google Maps we arrived and my first impression was; "Holy crap, this place looks all wrong!".  We had arrived at a strip mall plaza and a rather desolate looking one at that.  But the illuminated light-box sign reading "Army, Navy and Air Force Club" informed us that we were indeed in the correct spot.  As we entered the shopping plaza store front I was struck by another thought....this place really, really reminds me of a wedding reception hall or a year end sports team banquet at the local Legion!

Anomaly #2: I've seen Helix at festivals, on a cruise ship and at smaller clubs, but now I'm about to see Helix play at a wedding!

This event was actually a toy drive and as we entered the venue, presenting our unwrapped toys we received hand stamps and proceeded into the "wedding reception".  A Santa-dressed gentleman, who I assumed was the promoter or organizer of the event, was on hand at the door to warmly greet us and thank us for coming.  To the right hand side near the bar was an enormous pile of donated toys awaiting their Christmas destinations to those children in need.  Every child should experience the magic of receiving toys at Christmas and I was proud to see one of my favorite Canadian bands supporting such an event.  The three of us occupied chairs next to Brian and a friend of his.  Brian and I immediately lapsed into "rock talk" with preparing our "Top Ten Albums of the Year" lists for Decibel Geek and the latest Helix effort, Bastard of the Blues among the subjects.

Anomaly #3: I have known Brian for about three years and never, ever at a show, even on the cruise, have I seen him void of his camera apparatus as he was on this night.  As happy as I am to see him cut loose with some beers, I want some damn photos for this review slacker!

Unfortunately, we had basically missed the opening act thanks to our traffic nightmare, but we were able to catch the young lady and her guitarist as they wrapped up the final song of their set.  The evening's MC then took over for a series of prize giveaways and on-the-spot auctions, as well as drawing attention to other raffles that would be going on later in the night.  We learned that this was the third annual Helix Toy Drive event and I've already marked my calendar for next year's.

Helix was welcomed to the stage with a keyboard rendition of their most popular song, "Rock You" emanating from the PA sound system.  They blasted into "No Rest For the Wicked" to lead the charge and unfortunately the sound was not the best from our position seated at a long banquet table that was only missing the wedding tablecloths!

Anomaly #4: I have never seen a Helix show where pretty much the entire audience, let alone me, were seated!

"Wild in the Streets" was the next selection and that was it for me!  I'll be damned if I'm gonna let this flaccid crowd dictate how I see Helix!  Brian and I, both with freshly replenished beverages, headed up to the stage on the right side.  The sound was much, much better up here, probably the evils of bouncing off of the ceiling further back.  Brian Vollmer (vocalist) let the crowd know that Helix had just returned from a tour in Scandinavia as Brian and I remarked on the skills of newest Helix member, guitarist Chris Julke.  They went next to their latest release, Bastard of the Blues, for "Even Jesus (Wasn't Loved In His Hometown)", the first single.  With dry ice clouds billowing out from Greg "Fritz" Hinz's drum riser I was able to capture "Dirty Dog" on video.

Anomaly #5: While there were now several patrons standing and approaching the stage, there seemed to be a force field in the shape of a semi-circle at the front of the stage that no-one seemed to want to break.  Certainly not the style of crowd that we are used to at a show!  Actually kinda nice not to be pushing and shoving, trying to defend your position leaning on the front of the stage.

Brian Vollmer-photo by The Meister
The title track from the new album, "Bastard of the Blues", was up next featuring Kaleb Duck and Chris Julke both wailing on their guitars in an awesome display.  "The Kids Are All Shakin'" for some reason had me reflecting on the inaugural Monsters of Rock Cruise in 2012.  I had been dining alone sporting an older Helix tee and seated at a long eight person table in the buffet.  With my head down, shoveling in food in a flurry so as not to miss the next shipboard concert, I simply grunted approval without even looking up when someone commented "Nice shirt, mind if I sit at your table?"  It was a good several minutes later before it registered that it was none other than Brian Vollmer that had chosen to sit with me upon spotting my support for the band!  Kaleb Duck and Brian Vollmer now shielded their eyes and looked to the sky as the sound of an aeroplane passing overhead resonated through the PA system before Kaleb's guitar prowess lead off "When the Hammer Falls".  I've seen Helix quite a few times, but I can't recall a bass
Daryl Gray-blurry photo by The Meister
solo from Daryl Gray in previous events, so this was a new addition for me.  Gray called out "Give me some light!" and the fluorescent overheads illuminated the entire "wedding hall" as he pulled out what I believe was a violin bow to wield across the strings of his bass guitar.  I was also surprised to hear "Danger Zone" next as I don't think it's a usual inclusion in the setlist, either that or my memory's going in my old age.  One of my all time favorite Helix tracks, paling only in comparison to the rarely played "The Storm" and "Get Up!", "Running Wild in the 21st Century" saw me headbanging and singing away (apologies to those within earshot.....I'm tone deaf and tend to monotone hum the words that I don't actually know, but hey, I'm having fun!).  Vollmer made an appeal for us to support Canadian music, especially classic rock bands as Canadian radio is far from a supporter and buy merchandise from, not just Helix, but other bands as well.  This year marks the 40th Anniversary for Helix he informed us next.  He reminisced that when they first started out bar owners wanted dance bands to get the people up off their seats.  That's what the next track, "Make 'Em Dance" is all about.  The Crazy Elephant cover "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'" followed before Vollmer told everyone that the band would be at the merchandise table after the set to sign autographs and take photos.  He then dedicated the next selection "To my lovely wife, a song from the Wild in the Streets album, "Dream On"."  "Deep Cuts the Knife" was next and after that I got the camera out again to film "Screaming At the Moon" from Bastard of the Blues.

Getting into the festive season next with "Jingle Bells", I certainly don't remember any guitar work like Kaleb blisteringly delivered in the traditional version!  Asking about the Toronto Maple Leaf fanship in the room served as the intro for "All I Want For Christmas Is the Leafs To Win the Cup" and I sung "Go Habs Go!" in my head, not being a Leaf fan by any means.  "Heavy Metal Love" was on the roster now and as Vollmer jumped off the stage to sing in the semi-circle that still refused to be broken you can clearly see Decibel Geek photographer Brian Ronald in the "Metal On Ice" tee-shirt drunkenly rocking out in my video...way to go Bri!!

A little instrumental break led us to Kaleb's awesome "William Tell Overture", this time with some help from Chris Julke, something that I've usually seen Kaleb play himself, came off really well with both guitarists in the mix.  As would be expected, "Rock You" wrapped things up and one or two crowd members broke the force field semi-circle, edging closer and closer.  The boys left the stage
Helix Toy Drive setlist
for a few minutes to towel off while the crowd did a fair job of making noise to bring them back to deliver "Heavy Metal Cowboys" for an encore.  As I carefully peeled the silver duct tape off of the setlist that I had pilfered from the stage, I saw the other encore choices listed that did not get played.  One was the awesome ballad that always makes me think of Maxwell House coffee, "Good to the Last Drop", and a serious surprise in "Get Up!".  Although I loved this Helix show as I do all their performances, I dearly wish they'd played "Get Up!".  There's so many Helix songs that I love, such as "Jaws of the Tiger", that will probably never see a concert, so the fact that "Get Up!" made the printing of a setlist gives me hope that I may just hear it live someday yet.

Even though I've met the guys many times over I headed to the merchandise table to do so once again and thank them for another awesome show.  I was surprised and proud when I saw my two friends, who had really seemed to enjoy the show even joining me at the front after a time, purchasing shirts and CD's!  I fear that Helix and I may have created a monster as they were very questioning about the Monsters of Rock Cruise during the drive home!  The whole band posed for a photo with them pointing at the Helix logo that appears in my full sleeve tattoo.  What an awesome night with an awesome band who truly do appreciate their fans and deliver their all on stage every single time.
Helix checking out The Meister's tattoo!
Thanks Helix.....when's the next gig?

BUY: Helix - Bastard of the Blues

The Meister

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