The I-rock Club in Fredericton, NB (formerly Sweetwaters) rocked out Wednesday to one of Canada’s longest serving hard rock bands Helix. Supporting their excellent new album Vagabond Bones, the band’s current tour is very special for band and fans alike. It sees the reunion of the band’s classic 80’s lineup (note: many ads are stating “original” lineup – not the case) of vocalist Brian Vollmer, guitarist Brent “The Doctor” Doerner, bassist Daryl Gray, and drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz. Guitarist Caleb “the Duckman” Duck is capably taking the late Paul Hackman’s spot.
The band soundchecked with Vagabond Bones, Shot Full O’ Love (a nice surprise!), and The Animal Inside.
The band’s opening act was a Windsor, Ontario group called Time. One of the best new bands I’ve seen and heard for awhile, these guys ran the gamut from spacey prog-rock, Iron Maiden-like twin lead guitars, to Hendrix-y blues. By the time they got to their cover of Rush’s Tom Sawyer, I thought to myself “yup, they can do that one justice.” Check them out at www.myspace.com/timerockandroll.
At that point it just may have been the quickest intermission between opening act and headliner I’ve ever seen. Helix hit the stage…and took control. Brian Vollmer’s years of studying and teaching Bel Canto have strengthened his voice to the point where he sings every bit as good as he did back when the band dressed up like cavemen for videos. This enables the band to do their classic songs in their original key, which for a band that’s been around since 1974, is damn impressive. The band had some very minor background keyboards piped in for Running Wild in the 21st Century and (Make Me Do) Anything You Want. The three songs from Vagabond Bones sat in very nicely alongside the classic Helix catalogue. (With the exception of 1993’s It’s a Business Doing Pleasure album, the Helix formula has stayed relatively unchanged…and thank God for that.) The band also did the rousing “Get Up,” from their previous album The Power of Rock and Roll, again classic Helix
The band was tight, Brian was having some issues with the soundman for the first two or three songs, probably monitor issues but they were apparently remedied. I couldn’t always hear Duckman’s leads, but that may have just been my old ears. Aside from a couple of drunk girls spilling beer everywhere, and one guy who was shouting at both Time and Helix and providing the rest of us with some entertainment unto himself on the dance floor, the crowd was into the show big time. Not sure the I-rock’s capacity but it looked pretty packed to me. Of course no Helix show is complete without the call and response of “Rock You.” Might explain why I’m still hoarse.
As far as the setlist, not a lot of surprises except “Shot Full of Love” from Wild in the Streets, abbreviated as Brian shouted “Gentlemen, start your engines!” and the band went into the William Tell Overture. The classics didn’t stop there, with bassist (and excellent backup vocalist I might add) Gray interpreting Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King (which I first heard Triumph’s Rik Emmett do on guitar); not to mention an excellent drum solo from Fritz. Fritz later told me he was using a rented kit. Also found out from Brian that Brent Doerner was one sick “dirty” dog, although you’d never have known it. What a trooper. I was also pleased that the band played “Heavy Metal Cowboys,” from my personal fave Helix disc Back For Another Taste.
After the show, the band (except the Doctor) was at the merch booth signing autographs, taking pictures, and chatting it up with fans. Great selection of merch, just about the complete Helix catalogue was available including rarities like B-Sides (which I bought) and Live at the Marquee. Great bunch of guys to talk to, I’d had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with Vollmer for the two sister stations I work for (www.cj104.com and www.k93.ca) and he was equally friendly in person. Just genuinely grateful for the fans showing up, on a Wednesday night no less.
It goes without saying that if these guys roll through near YOU, do yourself a favour and check ‘em out. I should also mention that anyone who picks up a copy of the latest CD Vagabond Bones gets entered to win an autographed B.C. Rich Warlock guitar, which will be drawn on Christmas Eve. Brent actually brought the guitar out for one song (which you’d think I’d have written down but noooo…might have been Dirty Dog). But it’s a great album regardless of the bonus anyway. Check out www.planethelix.com for this and all things Helix.
Helix / Time
November 18, 2009
The I-rock Club
Wild in the Streets
The Kids Are All Shakin’
Go Hard or Go Home
Heavy Metal Love
Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’
No Rest For the Wicked
The Animal Inside (Won’t Be Denied)
Running Wild in the 21st Century
When the Hammer Falls
(Make Me Do) Anything You Want
Deep Cuts the Knife
Bass & Drum solo
Heavy Metal Cowboys
Shot Full of Love / William Tell Overture
(note: Six Strings, Nine Lives was written to follow, but didn’t get played…Also, flipping the setlist over reveals both Does a Fool Ever Learn and the oldie but goodie Billy Oxygen!!) I’m guessing the set was cut short because of Brent Doerner’s health issues.
Review By Tim Durling
For RockStar Weekly