By Carl Begai
October 12th, 2014 – Nuremberg, Germany
Born and bred in Toronto as I was, Helix is one of those bands that became a staple in my life as they did for many a budding Canadian metalhead. They were considered lightweights by some compared to the Van Halens, Mötley Crües and W.A.S.P.s being vomited out by the LA hair metal scene in the ’80s, but Helix was ours. Songs like ‘Rock You’ and ‘Heavy Metal Love’ were anthems everyone loved to hate to love thanks to perpetual radio and video play, heavier fare like ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ and ‘When The Hammer Falls’ were deemed worthy of a place in metal heaven, and we all knew ‘Deep Cuts The Knife’ smoked Dokken’s ‘Alone Again’ when it came to ballads.
I was too young back then to understand the marketing potential of a song like ‘Kids Are All Shakin’ (In The USA)’; the song ticked me off because Helix was a Canadian band, dammit (I didn’t see the problem with singing ‘Kids are all shakin’ in Canada, eh!’, but I digress…). All was forgiven when they unleashed Wild In The Streets in 1987, however, and I can proudly say I wore out two cassettes over the course of a year-and-a-half in mom’s car stereo. I remember seeing Helix tear it up a couple times in support of the album, the last time being at Toronto’s legendary Rock N’ Roll Heaven in 1989. I was never disappointed.
Fast forward to 2014 and 6,000 kilometers away from home, where word came down that Helix would be celebrating their 40th Anniversary with a European tour – their last one was in 1988 – in support of their new album, Bastard Of The Blues. Welcome news indeed, and more than a bit shocking to discover they would play the almost-city of Nuremberg, where I happen to reside for the moment. Attendance was mandatory. Sadly, on the day of the show – a Sunday of all days – it was clear that folks didn’t get the memo and only a trickle of people turned up when it should have been a flood.
Having played a sold out show in Switzerland a couple days earlier, Helix would have been justified in playing an abbreviated set or cancelling the Nuremberg gig entirely given the dismal turnout, all thanks to lousy non-promotion. Instead, those of us in attendance got a show worthy of a packed house. The festivities started as expected and hoped for, with ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ followed by ‘Wild In The Streets’, and from there it was a free-for-all of Helix classics and a couple new tunes. Rather than offer a play-by-play (thus spoiling it for anyone smart enough to catch the show), let’s just say the set was heavy with early ’80s material including ‘Dirty Dog’, ‘When The Hammer Falls’, ‘Animal House’, ‘Running Wild In The 21st Century’ and their trademark covers of Crazy Elephant’s ‘Gimme Gimme Good Lovin” and Nazareth’s ‘Dream On’. It has to be said that new songs ‘Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)’ and ‘Bastard Of The Blues’ stand up surprisingly well against a bloody strong repertoire of fan favourites.
For the record, not-quite-60-year-old frontman Brian Vollmer sounds like he’s 30 and still drives the Helix machine with his foot to the floor. Okay, no cross-stage some somersaults at this point of his career, but he’s clearly lost none of his energy. Having bassist Daryl Gray and drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz – members of what has long been regarded as the band’s classic line-up – on board again only added to the magic of the evening, and youngling guitarists Kaleb “Duckman” Duck and Chris Julke brought showmanship and shred (unexpectedly) reminiscent of Brent Doerner and the late Paul Hackman. The fact they all sing and are able to pull off backing vocals and harmonies without breaking a sweat was the icing on the cake (Duckman’s voice needs to be heard to be believed).
Towards the end of the night Vollmer addressed the audience saying “It doesn’t matter to us that not many people showed up. We’re not playing to the people that aren’t here, we’re playing to people that ARE here.”
Helix didn’t merely play, they performed their fricking hearts out. And nobody left disappointed.
Helix’s tour schedule as of today’s posting (October 18th) is as follows. Get out there and show ’em some love:
18 – Scandic Swania – Trollhättan, Sweden
19 – Rockbåten M/S – Helsingborg, Sweden
21 – On the Rocks – Helsinki, Finland
22 – Harry B. James – Stockholm, Sweden
23 – Ritz – Örebro, Sweden
24 – Denim & Leather – Jönköping, Sweden
25 – Gjerdrum Kulturhus – Gjerdrum, Norway
31 – Newfoundland Club – Cambridge, ON