It has never been this cool or important to be a Toady or a Helmeteer, not even in 1994. In grunge's wake, Todd Lewis and Page Hamilton's bands were a pair of Johnny-come-latelys, alternative also-rans in an arena with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But with the current '90s nostalgia wave earning even Marcy Playground more press and bigger tours than ever before (see Gabrielle Moss' terrific piece on this subject for GQ), the Toadies and Helmet were able to pack Webster Hall on their co-headlining tour last Thursday. 10 years ago, both of them would have been lucky to book the Mercury Lounge.
Much of Helmet's appeal is in how little they care. Not that they weren't professional--Hamilton's D-tuned riffs lost none of their precision, and his band of hired guns recreated the sounds of Meantime and Betty as well as they could be asked. But Hamilton, a 52-year-old jazz guitarist who found his niche in keep-it-simple alterna-metal, gave likeably self-assured banter between songs, joking on the audience's song requests and assuring us that he was more interested in a nap than in getting action. No one at the show would blame him, specially after the workout finale of "Meantime."
The Toadies' Pixietallica stylings have aged well, especially now that they're no longer sharing FM radio time with third rate Black Album and Doolittle fallout. Songs like "Heel" and "Mister Love" brought the crowd into minor moshing, and non-hits like "I Come From the Water" and "Tyler" are more singable than you remember. A song from their new album was respectfully received and forgotten, but most of the set was dedicated to Rubberneck, the Toadies' hit debut which included singles like "Away," "Backslider" and most memorably, "Possum Kingdom" a predatory love anthem elevated by Lewis' psychosexual howl, a distinctly aggressive and tuneful voice that has always been the band's best asset.
After teasing us with a few measures of Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison" (to remind us who they were really up against) and Helmet's "Unsung" (earning them an affable offstage finger from Hamilton), the Toadies closed with "I Burn," finalizing their pitch for Rubberneck's greatness. Who knows--give it a few decades and it could be Odessey and Oracle.