Over the last ten years, Mary Timony has reinvented herself as one of indie music's preeminent rockers. Between her likely one-off supergroup Wild Flag and her current band Ex Hex, she's found plenty of outlets for unleashing her boisterous riffage.
Flash back 20 years ago, and Timony was a completely different musician. In the mid-'90s, she cut her teeth composing measured, snaky guitar jams that evoked a hypnotic effect with her band Helium. The trio lasted six years before Timony pursued a solo career, but in that brief period, they established a dedicated cult following.
Just last month, Helium's former label Matador reissued the band's two full-lengths, 1995's The Dirt of Luck and 1997's The Magic City (which has been packaged with the preceding No Guitars EP), along with a compilation of extras called Ends With And. To help promote them, Timony, who has often spoken of her old band, agreed to tour the songs; however, due to scheduling complications, she couldn't reform the classic lineup that included Ash Bowie and Shawn Devlin. And so instead of a straight Helium reunion, this tour was billed "Mary Timony Plays Helium," featuring members of Brooklyn's Hospitality (bassist Brian Betancourt and drummer David Christian) and multi-instrumentalist Nicole Lawrence.
Timony and company kicked things off with a handful of Helium's better known tracks: "Pat's Trick," "XXX" and "Trixie's Star." It felt as though they required a bit of a warm-up to get in the zone, but once they got there with "Leon's Space Song," they started to lock in and find their chemistry. Timony exhibited her guitar sorcery during the prog odyssey "The Revolution of Hearts Pts. I & II," running her fingers up and down the fret board whilst singing harmonies with a pick in her mouth.
Interaction with the crowd was minimal, but Timony seemed to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. "You guys are quiet too," she said in a surprised tone. "Every show has been really quiet. I love it." It was the perfect segue into one of her more demure songs, the sleepy "Honeycomb," but any sense of calm was quickly interrupted by their rendition of "Ancient Cryme," which evolved into a real classic rock moment complete with showy rock star poses, and some sizzling dual soloing between Timony and Lawrence that produced lots of smiles.
For the encore, Timony brought out Wild Flag bandmate Rebecca Cole to sing lead on their cover of Yes's "Long Distance Runaround." That energy seemed to inspire a hastier-than-usual run-through of "Superball" and a beautifully cacophonous conclusion with the shoegaze-y "Baby's Going Underground."
It may have been a little rough around the edges at times, but Mary Timony gave both old and new fans what they wanted by presenting the songs of Helium in a much looser, more animated way than she might have 20-plus years ago.