Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Review by EvilG
Live pictures by CelticBob and EvilG

HELIX: Live on George Street,
St. John's, NL Canada
June 30th, 2004

A part of the Molson Canadian Rocks Big Birthday

It's not very often I get to partake in writing a concert review since very few metal or hard rock bands find there way to my isolated corner of this crazy world. In case you're wondering where that is, it's in the oldest city in North America - St. John's, Newfoundland (NL). The last time I saw Helix was in central NL when they did a cross island tour way back in 1986 in support of their album LONG WAY TO HEAVEN. As a young teenager, the band, and their live performance, made an impression on me that has lasted to this day as being one of the best live shows I've seen.

When word came that Helix were returning to NL, almost 20 years after their previous visit, I was thrilled. What made it even more of an event is that this would not only be a "re-live the past / play the hits" show, but would be a part of their tour to support a new release with new songs!! This is not a "best-of" album, but is in fact a new album with new material. I had ordered my copy of the band's new album, ROCKIN' IN MY OUTER SPACE from planethelix.com just a few weeks before their appearance here and had been spinning it regularly in anticipation of hearing some new material live. When I got and then reviewed the CD, I read the album's liner notes and noticed two names there that any old school metalhead from NL would recognize. That would be guitarist Rainer Weichmann and his wife Cindy Weichmann on backing vocals. Both were members of the 80's metal band KAOS who ironically toured across the island as the opening act for Helix back in 1986 and then with other local bands in 1987! I didn't initially know if they'd be here playing in the Helix band, but when CelticBob found out they'd be playing in Helix when they performed here, I was again floored. Helix in NL, a new album, and ex-KAOS members in the band?!?! I knew this was going to rule!!

Intro commentary from CelticBob
(who got to meet Helix earlier in the day):
The morning of the 30th started out as a normal day until my cell rang at around 10:15. It was Brian Vollmer inviting me down to the hotel and to do some sightseeing. I arrive at the hotel and meet up with Brian in the lobby we then meet up with his wife. We sit down and start to have a chat and then the bass player comes along so Brian introduces us and he sits down then Cindy and Reiner come along. Here we are; Brian, myself and Stan on the couch and Reiner and Cindy behind posing for a pic. Too cool!!! Brian leaves for a minute and I was talking to Reiner and Cindy about seeing their old band KAOS back in the 80’s. It is somewhat funny that KAOS opened for Helix back in 86 when they were last here now some 18 years later they are in the band. I also said that all I remember of the old show was Rainer’s guitar with the British flag painted on it and him coming out of the smoke at the start of the show playing “March of the Gremlins”. We all had a good laugh at that and he said he sold that guitar long ago. Too bad because that was a classic.

We go outside to go on a small tour of the city and realize it would be a bit cramped in my small car so Rainer and Cindy says they’ll just walk around as they’ve seen it all before when they lived there. Brian, Lynda and myself get in my car to go see some sights. Brian commented that the Tim’s coffee here is quite strong and I think the exact phrase was “Meth in a cup”. Hahaha We went up to Signal Hill for a bit then over to the other side of the harbour. He then had to go back to the hotel for a meeting. He wished he could’ve tripped around the city a bit more and saw the sights but his scheduling was a bit tight and he never got as much time to himself as he would have liked too. We drove up the 2 main drags of downtown and him and his wife really seemed to like the city. Too bad they never had more time and I knew more about the city. Hopefully next time...

We headed down to George Street (Interesting fact: George Street gives St. John's the distinction of being one of places in the world with the most bars per capita!) at around 7pm to see the opening act The Headpins. I didn't know much about this Canadian band besides a few of their songs. I had thought the band was going to be just plain rock n' roll but I was wrong. They are actually a hard rock band and some of their songs like "Turn it Up" stood out for me. Their tiny lead singer, who is now in her 40's, can still belt out the songs and has a great voice with a lot of range. I spent most of the time during their set pounding back a few beers and meeting up with the rest of the crew.

During The Headpins, no one really crowded around the stage but instead sat around and casually took in the band. Myself and CelticBob didn't care if we were going to be the only 2 people standing right up front for Helix, so after The Headpins finished off their set we made our way to the front of the stage to await the arrival of Brian Vollmer and co. Surprisingly, we weren't the only ones fired up for Helix as the street area in front of the stage quickly filled in with fans exited to see Helix.

After a short wait, the lights went down and through the speakers the intro "Space Junk" from the band's new album started. While this was playing, lead singer Brian Vollmer came onto the stage amidst wild cheering. Then the band kicked in with the new song "Rockin' In My Outer Space" from the new album. You could tell that Brian Vollmer was in his element and pleased with the welcome St. John's was giving to him and his band. His face was all smiles and from the get go he commanded the stage with a presence and energy that rivals, and for many exceeds, that of frontmen 1/2 his age. After the first song they went back to their 1984 international break-out album WALKIN' THE RAZORS EDGE with the track "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin' ". This was followed by the classic "Heavy Metal Love" which every Canadian who has watched the Power Hour (metal video show on Canada's Much Music) in the 80's is intimately familiar with. So far I had been paying close attention to the band and I am happy to tell you that this line up nails everything - the solos are played like the originals and Brian still has it with both his voice and his stage presence.

After a rocking rendition of "The Kids Are All Shakin' ", we were treated to 2 more songs from the new Helix album ROCKIN' IN MY OUTER SPACE. First was "The Ballad of Sam and Mary" which is one of the best (and heaviest) songs from the new album. Then it was the mid-paced grooving "It's Hard to Feel The Sunshine..." Both sounded exactly like they do on the CD. Rainer's guitar was a bit louder from where I was standing and it sounded a lot like it does on the album. The bass guitar wasn't as noticeable in the mix and I think Brian's voice could of been cranked just a little bit louder. His vocals were probably plenty loud for everyone back past the 4th or 5th row. The sound setup had the main speakers elevated and on the side front edges of the stage. That meant if you were in the first row and standing dead center you didn't get to hear the same mix as the rest of the audience...aww well, small price to pay to be up front I guess. Considering this line-up hasn't played live that much yet, they are doing an outstanding job so far!

The next part of the gig brought things down in tempo and intensity with the 1984 hit ballad "(Make Me Do) Anything You Want" and then a new 2004 ballad "Six Feet Underground". After the 2 ballads Brian told a story about how ex-Helix drummer Greg Fritz had met Tom Jones on some flight a few years back. Apparently he, and Brian, are fans and were invited to see him at the next show. The Tom Jones song "Delilah" was then introduced and played. In the middle Brian got everyone to sing the chorus part "Why, why, why? Delilah" a few times. Since I know nothing about Tom Jones (after all, he's not metal! ha!) I wasn't that excited to hear Helix cover him...I would of much preferred another Helix song! This was the only point in the show where I was saying to myself - "hurry up and get to the next song!"

At this point in the show Brian introduced the band and when he introduced the 2 ex-Kaos members (Rainer and Cindy) Rainer played a short solo. Me and CelticBob had been yelling out "March of the Gremlins" a few times to him so he played about 10-15 seconds of the song to our glee. "March of the Gremlins" is perhaps the best metal instrumental ever written/recorded here in NL. Nowhere but here would he be able to throw that into his solo and have someone recognize it! After the introductions, Brian said... "It's time to get down. It's time to get dirty...and do the dirty dog". This was a definite highlight since it's one of the better Helix songs and because he brought Cindy (backing vocalist/percussionist/backing guitars) to the front of the stage to sing lead vocals with him. They traded off lines and did a superb job with it. Cindy belted out a few insanely high notes in this one showing that her voice has improved since her days with Kaos. I wouldn't mind hearing her sharing a couple more songs on lead vocals with Brian and I don't think this takes away from Brian who is the focal point of the band. If anything, it adds to the show and for the horndogs in attendance....well let's just say Cindy is not  hard to look at!

A surprise addition to the show (for me anyway!) was "When the Hammer Falls". I had mentioned to CelticBob earlier in the day how I'd like to hear them play something a little more obscure like "When the Hammer Falls". This was followed by the musical highlight of the night, the most famous of all Helix songs that even those who are not Helix fans know...."Rock You". As you know, it starts with the famous line "Gimme an R". For this section Brian had jumped off the stage and then climbed over the barrier and stood right next to where me and CelticBob were.  I had the mic shoved in front of my face and got to yell/scream a few backing vocals along with a bunch of other crazy people! A number of other times Brian climbed off the stage during the show to high-5 the front row...that's one thing that sucks about having the barrier between the stage and the front row but I guess for safety reasons it's required.

After the climax we were informed it was Brian's birthday. Earlier in the show he mentioned that this year marks the 30th anniversary of Helix and he said with a grin "So that makes me just 35 since I started the band when I was 5".  At this point Brian was presented with a huge birthday cake and the whole audience sang happy birthday to him. Next what happened is something that you'll only see here in Newfoundland. A fellow fully decked in a fisherman's outfit, complete with a paddle, came out on stage for the ever popular tradition known as the "Screech In". Screech is a type of Rum which is very potent...we don't all drink it like some would have you believe, it's way too strong for my tastes! It is the kind of potent so that you'd better not get any on your lips on the way down. The ritual of the 'screech in' (or just 'getting screeched') involves such craziness as repeating a few lines in "Newfinese" (to which Brian said "I don't understand a word you are saying"), kissing a disgusting cod fish, etc. I won't go into the gory details, but between the laughter, Brian looked like he was at times dumbfounded...which made it even funnier for the audience. The fellow screeching Brian in as an "honorary Newfoundlander" then proceeded to get everyone to help him sing a whacky Newfoundland/Irish "jig" which keeps getting faster and faster...and confused the hell out of the band even though they looked to be having a great time with the audience interaction this whole thing provided.


Say that again?

Kiss the cod, don't tongue it dude!

After leaving the stage, chants of "Helix...Helix...Helix" immediately arose. After about a minute of that they returned to play a couple more songs to end off their apx. 2 hour set. After the show the band hung out at their merchandise table. I got to meet Rainer and thank him for laying down some "March of the Gremlins" in his solo and to meet Brian to get my pic taken with him etc. I told them both that I hoped it wouldn't be close to another 20 years before they returned. Hopefully they will be back VERY soon! If Helix are playing in your area of Canada this summer, go and check them out. They still rock and with a new line-up and new album are hopefully back to give fans more hard rocking metal for many more years to come!

CelticBob managed to get a copy of the set list from Cindy. It's not 100% accurate but is very close. The main thing, which was a bit disappointing, is the omission of "Deep Cuts The Knife" during the encore. It was probably omitted as a result of the b-day stuff. Uless I'm losing my mind, the band also played "Panic" from the new album.

Official Helix Site: www.planethelix.com

Kaos page from NF Metal Legion