Eugene Weekly : Music : 9.20.07

Strap It On

Helmet is back in town, and after re-forming two years ago following a six-year hiatus, you’ll be glad to know they’ve still got the same old grunt and polish that made Helmet great before. Oregon-born bandleader Page Hamilton was an undisputed guitar god before Helmet disbanded in 1998; the clean, metallic-edged sound he perfected was instantly recognizable. But while Helmet enjoyed success, they were never able to break through the barriers their music imposed on its listeners. For all the people who loved the militaristic precision with which they played, there were just as many people who found it cold. For all those who loved Hamilton’s gruff bark, there were equally as many who didn’t want to listen to a drill sergeant sing. While Hamilton honed Helmet to surgical quality precision, other bands took his blueprints and commercialized them, something that would have required Hamilton to loosen his grip just a little too much.

In the late ’90s, Helmet’s influence could be heard in everything that followed in the band’s musical wake. Though bands like Korn and Tool soared to popularity, Helmet suffered some musical missteps and fell off the radar.

Helmet returned to form with last year’s Monochrome, a CD that shows the band older and wiser but not worse for the passing of time. Their sonic template is intact, and it’s clear that today’s young rock whippersnappers still have a thing or two to learn from these godfathers.

Helmet, Dub Trio, On the First Day … They Were Kittens and Fluid play at 9 pm Wednesday, Sept. 26, at the WOW Hall. $15. — Vanessa Salvia


Omnibus Indie

You know that psychological trick where they ask you to read the sentence “I like Paris in the the spring time”? The idea being, of course, that your brain skips over the second the. Yeah, I fall for it every time too. Well, my brain did the same thing when I read the name Leviethan. Despite the misspelling, I thought I was going to have to brush up on my Social Contract theory. Not only that, in my head I kept repeating the word leviathan in that crunchy heavy-metal voice. Come on, you hear it too. Well, at least we’re in good company. Levi Ethan Cecil also agrees that his musical moniker sounds like a Swedish metal band. But Leviethan is anything but metal. Instead, it’s omnibus indie rock that borrows from some of the genre’s greatest musicians.

Cecil’s first solo project, Monuments in Memory of Nothing So Far, is the result of playing music for too long in bands that lasted longer than they should have, where he would write songs that weren’t suited for the band’s sound. But these once unheard songs now fit snugly on Levi’s deeply personal album.

The Portland-based musician is inspired by the independent movement of the ’80s and ’90s, which explains the mellow and moody tone of the album. Layered over crisp guitar picks is Levi’s light vocal weight that at times can sound like Elliott Smith, Doug Martsch or even Ben Gibbard (without the lisp). His music is what we’ve come to understand as quintessential Northwest indie rock, and he’s done a fine job capturing our beloved genre. Leviethan and Jesse Meade play at 9 pm Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+ show. $5. — Amanda Burhop


Starting With a Bang, and Some Power Point Too

Though you’ll hear a lot more about the Eugene Symphony next week in our arts preview, here’s the scoop you need for the symphony’s opening concert: It’s going to be intense. It’s going to be big. It’s going to be charismatic. And tickets start cheap at $15 a pop.

Artistic Director Giancarlo Guerrero directs “The Star-Spangled Banner” to kick off every season, and even though he’s about to leave us (he’ll be another in the symphony’s long line of “We knew them when!” as he leaves to helm the Nashville Symphony in 2009), he’s still got his trademark energy and bounce, and he likes to get audiences going with the patriotic song. Not that the program is particularly U.S. focused — with Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture, Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileriras No. 4 and the big sounds of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, it’s an international potpourri of sound. And it’s a testament to Guerrero’s faith in the Eugene musicians that he begins the season with no guest artist for the opening concert.

Those who want to know more about the program, perhaps including Guerrero’s “bookends of Bach,” can go to his preview at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 26, in the Hult Center’s Studio. And more preconcert excitement comes just before the show at 6:30 pm on Thursday, Sept. 27, in the lobby of the Hilton, where the symphony provides treats along with the new long-range plan for the next 20 years of the institution. Seriously: The power point presentation may not get you in party mood, but the free drinks — and the important info — just might. The Eugene Symphony’s opening concert begins at 8 pm Thursday, Sept. 27 at the Hult Center. $15-$61. — Suzi Steffen


Authenticity and Charm

You might have heard J.S. Bach’s music at the Oregon Bach Festival a few weeks back, but you can get a better idea of how the composer intended it to be heard at two upcoming free concerts by the Oregon Bach Collegium. Rather than using the compromised tunings and modern instruments that deprive this great music of so much of its original charm, the ensemble plays on instruments or replicas from Bach’s time and in styles he expected. On Sept. 23 and Sept. 25, the recently formed group will play some of Bach’s finest chamber music: the six sonatas for violin and harpsichord along with a pair of flute sonatas. Unfortunately, one of the Collegium’s founders, Rose Barrett, is skipping town for a spell to study Baroque violin in Italy, but remaining members Margret Gries (harpsichord) and flutist Rachel Streeter will continue to perform Baroque music here in authentic, historically informed fashion — an important contribution to Oregon’s musical culture. The concerts take place at 7:30 pm Sunday, Sept. 23, and Tuesday, Sept. 25, at Central Lutheran Church (18th and Potter, near the UO School of Music). Free. — Brett Campbell


They’re On Their Way

“A speed limit sign / We don’t play no mind / That’s how we roll.” Nope, those aren’t lyrics from Lil’ Wayne’s latest album; the words belong to a blues rock band called The Strange Tones. The Portland quartet is cruising into Eugene this weekend to play a CD release show for their new album, We’re On Our Way. On the CD, you’ll hear influences starting with American roots and traveling all the way through rockabilly and surf rock, presented in a tightly wrapped package complete with Fender bass, harmonica, bottleneck guitars and soulful vocals.

Don’t expect an unnatural attempt to imitate the late greats of a soulful genre: The Strange Tones blend their sound to create a fun, experimental performance filled with electrifying guitar licks, which are delivered by Guitar Julie and Suburban Slim (aka Phil Wagner) and the tight rhythm section of bassist Andy Strange and drummer J.D. Huge (Jeff Strawbridge). Andy Strange, Strawbridge and Wagner grew up playing around Eugene in several bands. In Portland they united with Julie Strange to play, produce and promote their music. “In most blues acts it’s like big star, little band. Our songs are so tightly arranged that we can’t even really play a show if one of us isn’t there,” says Julie. “We like being a unit as opposed to a bunch of stars.”

The Strange Tones play at 9:30 pm on Saturday, September 22 at Mac’s at the Vet’s Club. $7. — Katie Cornell