HELIX AND PLAYHOUSE PUT ON ROCKIN’ SHOW IN NATION’S CAPITAL
Date: October 11, 2019
Venue: Brass Monkey
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Helix frontman Brian Vollmer regularly posts some insightful comments via his Facebook account(s). During a recent one, he mentioned that he was 64 years of age (alright, not that insightful) and if anything, that reminded me how it’s sometimes better to live in the present rather than wait for the future. In other words, why wait for tomorrow when you can do something today. In this case, that meant there was no reason to pass on Helix‘s stop in Canada’s nation capital (when I happened to be in town that night) rather than wait for a more convenient time to go see the band on a later date. Yes, I was going to be exhausted going into the concert since my wife had forced my kids and I to leave Toronto at 6:00 am (in order to avoid rush hour traffic out of the city) earlier that day to make it to Ottawa in a decent amount of time. Nevertheless, no matter how tired I would be, I also knew that once at the Brass Monkey, I would get a shot of adrenaline just from attending the concert and I would be good for the remainder of the evening. Although I had a few potential friends / family members that might want to go to the Helix concert with me, no one seemed available or willing to go to the show when push come to shove. Nevertheless, that did not deter me from going solo to the show.
Knowing that Montreal based rockers Playhouse were one of the opening acts, I anticipated that they would probably be the second opening act of the night so made sure that I arrived in time for their set. As it turns out, I arrived during the last song of the first opening act Rude Mood. I made sure to pick up Playhouse‘s CD as soon as I got there (for only $5.00 Cdn — what a bargain) and was able to resist the very enticing Helix merchandise display this time around.
Before long, Montreal rockers Playhouse took to the stage. I must confess not knowing that much about them except that they were around back in the 1980s, reformed a couple of years ago and released an EP titled The Rock N’ Roll Circus back in November 2018. I had been meaning on getting a copy of the EP for some time, which explains why I purchased one as soon as I got to the venue. Playhouse frontman Peter Cat had a good stage presence and the band was really tight. Cat complimented the Brass Monkey venue calling it the best rock venue in the province of Ontario (or something like that) and singling out the venue owner Skotti Ruffo for the great job that he was doing. One look at the upcoming shows for the Brass Monkey confirmed that this was the place to play, at least in the nation’s capital, as there was a handwritten list of bands coming up next to the bar, which was rather impressive which included The Lazys on Oct. 16th, Bumblefoot with Russ Dwarf on Nov. 2nd, A Night of Metal (with former Judas Priest frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens) on Nov. 8th, Cherie Curie and Brie Darling on Nov. 19th, the Killer Dwarfs on Nov. 23rd and Danko Jones on December 2nd. Speaking of the Brass Monkey owner, what a great guy. I ordered a Coke and the guy refused to charge me on the basis that the cost was so minimal.
I was really looking forward to seeing Playhouse perform and they were even better than I thought! A lot of it has to do with their songs. They were much better than I remembered them from posting their various videos over the last few years on Sleaze Roxx. The group started off with “On Fire” and had my attention right from the get go. Lead vocalist Peter Cat had good stage presence and was able to engage the audience while the rest of the band looked really happy to be there. Despite not being familiar with Playhouse‘s material, I was really into all of their songs. The standout track was — surprisingly to me — their ballad “I Don’t Need You.” I usually loath ballads but this one was truly a great one. It had a real Bret Michaels / Poison feel to it and the chorus was super catchy and easy to sing along too. The guitar solo from KK at the end of “I Don’t Need You” was out of this world. It was such a rocking solo and it really surprised me coming at the end of the slower track. Sadly, Playhouse‘s set was then cut short. I know that since their setlist had two more songs on it (“Turn It Up Louder” and “Rock N Roll All Night”) and the band members looked a little confused once the PA music started playing. Later on, I spoke to the friendly Playhouse drummer Steve Creep who explained that the whole evening was running late, which was the reason why Playhouse‘s set was cut short. If I was living in the city of Montreal (where Playhouse are based out of and play quite a bit), I would be going to see these guys play live as much as I could.
01. On Fire
02. Stand Up & Fight
04. Revolution Tonight
05. I Don’t Need You
Before long, it was time for the veteran rockers Helix. It’s hard to believe that the group has been going for more than 45 years spearheaded by frontman Brian Vollmer. This would be my sixth time seeing Helix and they are the consummate professionals. It doesn’t matter how many people are in the crowd, whether the audience members they are facing are standing or sitting, the band always puts on a solid show and plays tons of songs. I couldn’t resist and had to take a sneak peak at the setlist posted on the stage while the band and crew were setting up. I was thrilled to see over 20 songs on the setlist and that my favourite Helix album would be “represented” this time around. The last time that I had seen Helix perform (back in Hamilton in June) — which Vollmer later described as the band’s “shittiest” gig of the year — they did not perform any tracks from their 1990 opus Back For Another Taste. This time around, the band’s three listed encores — “Heavy Metal Cowboys,” “Running Wild In The 21st Century” and “Good To The Last Drop” — were from that album.
I was though a bit disappointed that only one song (“Coming Back With Bigger Guns”) was being played from Helix‘s latest studio album Old School. For a veteran group like Helix that often plays 15 to 20 songs per show, I would think that playing three songs from their latest album is not too much to ask. I was really hoping that the song “Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound” from the Old School album would get played but it wasn’t meant to be. I had figured that if Helix played even two songs from Old School, that track would have been included. The rest of the setlist was no surprise with four songs played from No Rest For The Wicked (1983), five from Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge (1984), three from Long Way To Heaven (1985), one song from Wild In The Streets (1987), one from Vollmer‘s solo album When Pigs Fly (1999), one from B-Sides (1999), one from Bastard of The Blues (2014) and the single “The Devil Is Having A Party Tonight” (2017), the latter which will appear on Helix‘s forthcoming new album Eat Sleep Rock.
Helix kicked things off with “Coming Back With Bigger Guns”. The band members always look like they are having a good time and are always “positioned” the same with guitarist Kaleb Duck to Vollmer‘s right and bassist Daryl Gray and guitarist Chris Julke to his left. Vollmer mentioned that this was Helix‘s second last show of the year with the last gig the next night at Maxwells in Waterloo, Ontario. For those who don’t know, Vollmer is what is considered a “snow bird” as he and his wife Lynda go south to Florida (Fort Myers) every winter to escape the awful Canadian winter. Helix‘s set was very similar to the one that I saw them play in Hamilton back in June except with more songs this time around. My favorite tracks played on this night were “I’m A Live Frankestein” (ironically a Vollmer solo song), “When The Hammer Falls” and “Dirty Dog.” One thing that was peculiar about Helix is that they did not have any guitar solos but did have the obligatory drum solo and a surprising bass solo. Perhaps it’s due to Gray and drummer Greg ‘Fritz’ Hinz‘s tenure in the band. I am not a fan of drum solos but it was obviously cool to see Hinz play one after the horrible year that he had recovering from a fractured skull and all the other ailments that Vollmer listed to the crowd. Gray‘s bass solo was entertaining as well since he used a violin bow for part of it. It reminded me of L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns who uses a violin bow for one of his guitar solos when playing live. Given that both have been around for a while, I am not sure who came up with the idea first.
After getting the crowd to sing along to their anthem “Rock You”, the Helix band members went off the stage and I was fully expecting them to play a trio of songs from Back From Another Taste. The group did come back on stage and played “Heavy Metal Cowboys” but then unfortunately left the stage for good. It was obviously disappointing since I really wanted to hear “Good To The Last Drop.” After Helix‘s set was over, that’s when the Playhouse drummer informed me that all of the bands were running behind and that every group including apparently Helix cut their set a little short. In any case, it is hard to complain when a group that has been around for 45 years plays 19 songs in one night! Overall, Helix put on a great set and I look forward to catching them play live in 2020 when Vollmer is back from his winter hibernation.
01. Coming Back With Bigger Guns
02. Long Way To Heaven
03. Wild In The Streets
04. Kids Are All Shakin’
05. Does A Fool Ever Learn
06. Animal House
07. Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)
08. I’m A Live Frankenstein
09. The Devil Is Having A Party Tonight
10. Bass Solo
11. Danger Zone
12. When The Hammer Falls
13. Make Me Do Anything You Want
14. Deep Cuts The Knife
15. No Rest For The Wicked
16. Drum Solo
17. Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’
18. Heavy Metal Love
19. Dirty Dog
20. Rock You
21. Heavy Metal Cowboys