In absolute historical terms, the early ’90s wasn’t very long ago at all. In musical history, though, that might as well be eons ago, and in many ways, it was a period that was arguably more creatively free. In some ways, fewer channels of distribution meant less micro-splintering and attendant micro-marketing of subgenres, which meant that bands who freely crossed these boundaries had a little bit more of a mass-audience chance.
Take, for example, Helmet, the New York act helmed by frontman Paige Hamilton that first formed in 1989. The group’s best songs floated off in an undefinable Venn Diagram of various overlapping genre parts — they weren’t fast enough to be punk, but weren’t technical enough to really be metal, per se.
They were heavy but melodic and even catchy. They were, really, a band without an automatically prescribed tribe, and, lucky for them, this meant, at the time, label support to go for a wider, quote-unquote “alternative” audience. It’s hard to imagine one of the group’s biggest commercial hits, “Unsung,” finding any support today on heavily segmented radio, music TV, or even on the blogosphere, where subgenre enthusiasts even divide themselves digitally.
In the ensuing nearly 20 years, though, certain subsets of the loud-music crowds have come full circle, and Helmet sounds new again. Or, rather, there are a lot of new bands who are more than happy to carry out what Helmet started. Younger fans of certain sets of heavy music who never bothered with the band will, upon closer inspection, find strains carried on by Torche, Baroness, and plenty of other acts with a taste for multiple related sounds.
With that, Helmet might find these audiences particularly receptive to the band’s current tour, an unabashed exercise in nostalgia — or, an unabashed dive into musical history! — thanks to the addition of the Toadies to the bill. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s landmark album Meantime, the effort that birthed “Unsung” and hit the upper reaches of the Billboard charts. That kind of commercial, major-label success is almost unthinkable for a band of Helmet’s ilk in 2012, but this outing will, perhaps, score some new, eager fans who are too young to actually remember 1992.
Helmet. With the Toadies and Ume, 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 25 at Revolution, 100 S.W. Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Admission is $27; all ages. Call 954-449-1025, or visit jointherevolution.net.