Most tours that focus on the music of a band that broke up a long time ago tend to be some combination of cash grab, nostalgia trip, and victory lap. Those labels only apply tangentially to Mary Timony, who will "play Helium" at Hopscotch Sunday afternoon. Oh, there will be some nostalgia among the folks who knew the band the first time around, but while most such enterprises involve bands whose greatness is loudly proclaimed by many, Timony's performances offer a chance for many to discover one of the era's most undervalued indie bands.
In the twenty years since Helium disbanded, the band's reputation has risen in inverse proportion to the scarcity of its long out-of-print records. Matador rectified that in May with reissues of 1995's The Dirt of Luck and 1997's The Magic Kingdom, along with a fascinating odds-and-ends collection.
Helium shared elements with Liz Phair, Pavement, Guided By Voices, and other Matador labelmates—guitar dissonance, a taste for prog, deadpan vocal delivery—but Helium's concoction was somehow less immediately graspable. Additionally, the trio followed the promptings of its heart more than the path of commercial success. Despite touring with Phair and Sonic Youth, the band's biggest pop-cultural moment was being parodied on Beavis and Butt-head. Its disbanding coincided with the end of the romance between Timony and bassist Ash Bowie. (Bowie declined to take part in the tour; Timony will be backed by Brian Bettencourt and David Christian of the Brooklyn band Hospitality.)
In her post-Helium years, between solo work and recordings with Wild Flag and Ex Hex, Timony has amassed a catalog that dwarfs that of Helium, but it's Helium for which she is best known and most acclaimed.
Helium's discography charts a shocking evolution from the aggro tones of Pirate Prude EP to the "cartoon and monster movie music" of The Dirt of Luck to the baroque wanderings of The Magic Kingdom, on which Timony finally gave up trying to hide her classical training and mythological bent. Hearing these songs, informed by Timony's years of growth and exploration, will provide a rare opportunity for something old to sound new again. —David Klein