HELPLESS – The Gov Saturday 5 January 2019
Words Geoff Jenke
If you were seeing bands in the 80’s in Adelaide, you will remember how popular Tribute bands and acts were. Every weekend in Adelaide you could go see “U2”, “The Stones, “The Beatles”, “Deep Purple” or many other famous bands. They faded during the 90’s, although never completely died out and seem to have made a bit of a resurgence in the past few years. I guess it is the fact a lot of the bands they are covering no longer play live, or in fact, many of the artist are not alive anymore. (Thankfully Neil Young is still alive and still touring)
I never liked tribute bands “back in the day” and I didn’t like that “hippy druggy” Neil Young back in the day. Times have changed and I am now a Neil Young tragic and I can now watch and appreciate tribute bands.
This is the third time I have seen Helpless, so they must be doing something right to get me back. The band pay homage to some of Neil Young’s most celebrated and occasionally rarer songs. While arrangements hold true to the original works, featuring four-part harmonies, banjos, lap slide, harmonicas and wailing guitars, they tell us they are just on stage to have fun playing Neil’s songs. It is not necessarily word and note perfect, although they nail it most of the time.
Another thing I like about Helpless is that you never know what you are going to get. They start the show with two relatively unknown Neil songs in Out on the Weekend (from Harvest) and Looking for A Love (from Zuma), granted, not probably not lost on this audience of faithful Neil fanatics. Down by the River was played in it’s full 6 minute plus glory and classic Young songs, Cortez the Killer, Comes a Time and Heart of Gold were covered in the first set. Yes, the band’s name sake song, Helpless also got an airing.
After a short break, the volume was increased and the set was more electric with slow burners Powderfinger, When You Dance, Mansion on the Hill all getting played in their Crazy Horse style glory. Ohio was played a neck breaking speed, almost a “punk” version of the classic song. Neil’s BIG hit Cinnamon Girl sounded as fresh as the day it was originally released way back in 1969. The band members were probably not even born then, but most of the audience probably remember when it came out. The song degenerated into industrial noise, which after a couple of minutes transformed into Hey Hey My My (Into the Black), the only song that could end the set satisfactory.
Todd Sibben on guitar was amazing, switching between Lap Steel and electric guitar all night. When needed he certainly could shred his guitar. Tom West doesn’t sound quite like Neil Young and he doesn’t try, but is still one good singer. Another great thing about the band is the harmonies with all members contributing.
The first time I saw this band they claimed they didn’t know anymore songs when called back for an encore and then played a couple of songs they had played before. This time they were prepared and while I was awaiting a loud electric finish to the night, I was pleasantly surprised by their choice in the wonderful Harvest Moon and a ripping Old Man with Todd on banjo.
Then as they began the evening, in a bold move, they again played two relatively unknown song in Cripple Creek Ferry (from After the Gold Rush) and For the Turnstiles (from On the Beach). Third time in and still no Rockin’ in the Free World or Like a Hurricane, two of Neil’s most famous songs, but (hey hey) no one cared.
In the end they are just a Neil Young tribute band but, in my mind, to be a successful tribute band you have to have the audience walking out hoping like hell the band they are covering will be playing Adelaide again soon and to get to your car and turn up the album of the artist for the trip home. Helpless succeeded on both accounts for me.
If I may, if your reading this guys, next time slip in Slip Away…… In any case I will be back to see Helpless again.