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Helmet and Toadies are back to the future

Published November 2, 2012 2:22 pm

Music • Bands most known for 1990s success still recording new music and will co-headline Depot.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Unbuttoned flannel shirts over tees. Baggy carpenter pants. Eddie Vedder's corduroy jacket.

While many of the fashion trends from the 1990s haven't yet risen from the ashes to clothe a new generation of teenagers, hard-rock bands that were in some cases long-forgotten have reappeared as if they were Lazarus breathing the new air of the millennium.

Two of those bands, Helmet and Toadies, will co-headline a concert at the The Depot on Saturday, and the stories of both bands provide examples that resurrection doesn't just happen in the Bible.

Close your eyes for a moment to remember 1992. That year, after reportedly receiving a $1 million recording contract after a fierce bidding war, Helmet, with guitar wizard Page Hamilton as its close-cropped frontman, released "Meantime." That's when alt-metal roared its head to join the already bubbling alt-rock movement to proclaim that you didn't need long hair to complain through your guitar.

Close your eyes again to remember 1995. That's when a Texas alt-rock band released the single "Possum Kingdom," and it became the most popular song ever about encasing your blushing bride in a block of ice with repeated entreaties of "Do you wanna die?" (Don't deny that you remember that song. We all sang it that summer.)

As fate would have it, both bands fell on harder times as the 1990s came to a close, but after long hiatuses, they have returned.

Toadies never matched the success they found on MTV, disbanding in 2001 after founding bassist Lisa Umbarger left. The entire band was still upset after its record company rejected its second album, "Feeler," forcing the band to record a lackluster album instead before calling it quits.

"I went eight months without doing any music," said Vadem Todd Lewis, Toadies frontman. "I was betrayed by a lot of people I have in the business. I was in a bad place, personally."

But Lewis was born to be a musician. "I got the itch," he said. "It's who I am and what makes me happy."

He began the Dallas-based Burden Brothers, and in 1996 Toadies got the chance to do a reunion show. The band reunited and released a 1998 album, "No Deliverance," and "Feeler," which had been leaked for years, finally was released on another label. "It felt good to hear it how we wanted it to sound," Lewis said.

The band's fifth album, "Play.Rock.Music," was released in July, and it sounds like 1995 all over again, with dark lyrics and catchy melodies, and with much of the subject material coming from Lewis' broken relationship. "That's always fodder," he said.

For the record, Lewis doesn't just get inspiration when ominous clouds are overhead. "I don't consider myself to be a dark person, but I get it," he said. "I heard some reviews [of the song 'Beside You'] that talked about sinister overtones, but I wrote it about my daughter."

The history of Helmet tells a similar story. In 1998, after five albums and 1,600 shows, Hamilton dissolved the band. That's after the band never saw the same kind of success after its major-label debut, and interpersonal quibbles became amplified.

For more than a half-decade, Hamilton's attention turned away from metal and toward jazz, which he studied in college. Even now, he plays jazz gigs four or five nights a year. He also focused on film scoring, with hopes that one day a film he has worked on will get accepted at the Sundance Film Festival.

But, in 2004, Hamilton decided to revive Helmet, even though he has remained its only constant member. In less than two years, "Size Matters" and "Monochrome" were released, and for a time Salt Lake City's Jeremy Chatelain played bass in the band. "He's an amazing musician," Hamilton said of Chatelain, who is still active in the local scene, most notably with the band Cub Country and Spy Hop Productions.

In 2010, the band released "Seeing Eye Dog," and earlier this year was persuaded to do a 20th-anniversary tour in which it played "Meantime" from front to back. "That's the album that put us on the map," said Hamilton. "I never though we'd do it in its entirety. … We've never cut any of those songs from our set."

To Hamilton, evolution means that "Seeing Eye Dog" isn't a carbon copy of "Meantime." "Your music becomes a reflection of your life's philosophy," he said. "That changes as you get older." As a result, the stream-of-consciousness, cryptic lyrical style of "Meantime" has become more of a narrative on Helmet's later releases, and Hamilton's initially thin voice has never sounded better. "I'm not hiding as much anymore."

Actually, neither band, Helmet nor Toadies, is hiding anymore, and their tour makes it safe for alt-metal fans to come out and play. Just leave the corduroy jacket at home.


Back from the '90s

P Alt-rock bands The Toadies and Helmet will bring their tour to The Depot with guests UME.

When • Saturday, Nov. 3, 7:45 p.m.

Where • The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $20 at SmithsTix