TVD Live Shots: Helium and Noveller at the Rock & Roll Hotel, 6/6

Veteran indie rocker Mary Timony played the first of 9 dates of a short tour being billed as “Mary Timony plays Helium,” to an almost sold-out crowd at the Rock & Roll Hotel last Tuesday. The string of dates coincides with the reissue of the band’s two full length LPs, 1995’s debut The Dirt of Luck and 1997’s follow-up The Magic City.

The reissue campaign also includes a new compilation of rarities titled Ends With And, and though the band didn’t include many of the rare tracks in their set this night, we were treated to a 13 song set, consisting of 7 songs from their debut record, 5 songs from their follow-up, and 1 song from their “Pirate Prude” EP. Unfortunately, I missed out on Helium during the ’90s; a casualty to the long list of bands whose music I knew of but just never made it to one of their shows, and I’m sure that I wasn’t alone in feeling like these shows are some small amount of redemption for not catching the band in its heyday.

Though Timony’s original bandmates aren’t accompanying her on this short run of shows, the backing band she has assembled, consisting of two members of the band Hospitality—Brian Betancourt on bass and David Christian on drums—and rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Nicole Lawrence on rhythm guitar and keyboards, I couldn’t help but feel like they had conjured up the ghost of the original band and allowed it to course through their bodies and exit through their fingertips. It felt very much like we were back in 1993, if only for one night.

Noveller, the Brooklyn-based project of Sarah Lipstate, opened the show. I wasn’t familiar with Lipstate’s music prior to this show, but gauging interest by the number of people who made their way through the crowd to catch a quick glimpse of her two effects pedal boards, it was clear that I was in the minority. I overheard several people remark that many of her shows are sold-out affairs—not surprising for a guitarist who has collaborated with Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth and was a member of Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Army.

When Lipstate came onstage she was alone, and I assumed that a full band would fill in after the first song, but quickly realized she was the band. Lipstate used delay and looping to create intricately timed instrumental vignettes. From one instrument, she was able to create a bottom end, and then layered melody on top to fashion short pop songs that didn’t require lyrics as her guitar seemed to do all of the speaking necessary. Lipstate would occasionally close her eyes and toss her head back, and seemed to become an extension of her instrument, and the sounds just flowed as Timony emerged from backstage to watch the latter end of her set.

Helium book-ended their 10 song set with “Pat’s Trick,” the first track off of the debut record, and by my recollection, the very first Helium song I had ever heard. Standouts were the guitar interplay between Timony and Lawrence on songs like “The Revolution of Hearts, Parts I and II” and encore track “Superball” which resulted in pockets of dancing all around the club. Toward the end of the main set, Timony reminded everyone that we could purchase the reissues and T-shirts upstairs, or in her words, we could “see ‘it’ upstairs,” which elicited some laughter from the crowd.

At one point fans started calling out requests like “The American Jean” (which I swear I saw Timony roll her eyes at), “Skeleton,” and “Termite Tree.” Despite the requests, and one fans assertion that she has a lot of songs and “all of them are good,” they stuck with the plan and didn’t stray from the setlist. Lawrence slowly bowed her guitar with a drumstick, droning right into a collision course with Timony’s guitar on “Baby’s Going Underground” which culminated in a serious groove, propelled by Betancourt and Christian before Timony raised her instrument above her head, as if to offer it to the gods.

With that, the band walked off stage only to return moments later to much applause and finished with a 3 song encore. They closed the show with “Walk Away” which is the final track on the band’s final record. Timony again raised her guitar to the heavens, and then as if to take her own advice, just simply walked away.


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