It had been my original and stated intent to catch Los Angeles-based cellist Alison Chesley — who has performed under the moniker Helen Money since releasing a self-titled album under it in 2007 — at the St. Vitus bar on Friday night. So firm was I in this intent that I stayed at my office until 9PM so I could leave right from it to get into Brooklyn for the show in time to catch her with minimal traffic hindrance. I’d picked up my car from the mechanic earlier in the day and was all good to go.
All good to go, that is, until I started said vehicle and found it had no headlights — a fact I’d failed to notice since it was still light out when I drove it from the mechanic’s to my office. Some wire accidentally bumped, and there you go. This was enough for me to miss the show. I called The Patient Mrs., who in fact offered to come drop off another car — because she’s wonderful — but the timing wouldn’t have worked anyway.
I had a solid 15 to 20 minutes of feeling bad for myself while I waited for her to pick me up at my office before I remembered that Helen Money had a second show booked for Sunday night at The Acheron, a venue I’ve generally avoided since I and someone on their behalf engaged in a bit of needless mutual dickery early in 2011 (though I was there later that year), and suddenly it seemed far less dramatic. I’d still be able to see Helen Money while she was in town, still be able to pick up a copy of her latest album, Arriving Angels (review here), and though it was a Sunday night and I had to work Monday morning, stubbornness won out.
So off I went. My car was still at the mechanic’s, but The Patient Mrs. was kind enough to lend me hers for the evening and I trucked across Manhattan and into Brooklyn for the show; a bill which Chesley was sharing with San Diego doom-dub machinist Author & Punisher and Philly metallers A Life Once Lost. Nothing against either, both are well established in what they do — and I can’t even think of the name A Life Once Lost without having the hook of their “The Hunter” run through my head — but it was Helen Money I was going to see, so I made sure to get there early.
Familiarly, I was a little too early, but after standing around for about an hour, Chesley took her cello out of a case with a sticker for her old outfit Verbow on it and took the stage in front of the other bands’ backlined equipment, standing with pedal boards in front and to the side of her. She was alone — Arriving Angels features outside contributors, something of a departure — but more than held her ground as a solo artist. She’s hardly the first to construct a larger-than-one-person sound using loops and effects, and the drama a cello can create without accompaniment has been proven time and again, but Helen Money is nonetheless a singular, individual project, as much sonically as practically. She may or may not be moving in the direction of working on fuller arrangements for studio material going forward, but for what it is now, for Helen Money to work, it almost had to just be her.
She mostly kept to Arriving Angels material for the setlist, with each of the eight tracks accounted for save the closer, “Runout,” and a good portion of them presented in the same order as on the album. Helen Money‘s propensity to play heavier and louder parts off softer ambience showed itself throughout as she bowed or plucked the cello strings, a kind of frantic energy taking hold at points that was suitably electric for her distorted tone. Some of the most effective moments of Arriving Angels arrive when she makes that sudden jab, and using sampled drums — it’s Neurosis/Sleep drummer Jason Roeder contributing the loops to the studio versions, and presumably his samples live as well — “Radio Recorders” and “Beautiful Friends” were all the more visceral in the live setting of The Acheron, which was mostly held in attentive check throughout, save for some conversation in back and spillover noise from The Anchored Inn next door.
Two or three times, Chesley spoke off-mic from the stage about a song before she played it. I was standing in back by then, so couldn’t really make out what she was saying, but her point got across anyway once the next piece began. Dipping back to the self-titled, she touched on the shorter “Hendrix” before rounding out with the march of “Schrapnel” and the stark, sometimes furious Arriving Angels title cut. It wasn’t quite 10PM when she finished and said a humble goodnight, and I was soon enough on the road back to Jersey, the looming week and temptation to make it back before midnight overwhelming all other impulses. Plus, you know, I had to give my wife’s car back.
Extra pics after the jump.