We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Before Ex Hex and Wild Flag (but after Autoclave), Mary Timony had a three-piece band in the early ’90s called Helium—and what a band it was.

Imagine Rush and The Breeders had a baby and you’d get pretty close to Helium. Full of nifty time signature changes, colorful lyrics, and a jaw-dropping, intertwining guitar and bass, the band wasn’t super well known, but those who were hip to the trio found the expert playing and quirkiness intriguing.

Helium’s label, Matador Records, just reissued Helium’s two full-length records and a compilation of B-sides and demos, and to celebrate, Timony kicked off a 10-day tour called “Mary Timony plays Helium” here at home at the Rock & Roll Hotel. Backed by friends from the NYC’s Hospitality and guitarist/keyboardist Nicole Lauren, last night’s performance really shows off how intricate the song arrangements were.

Songs like “Revolution of Hearts Part I and II” have far more going on than a listen to the record version lets you think. Timony has said that Helium was an attempt to move away from her classic guitar training and into a sound in which she felt more at home. She wasn’t a punk, she wasn’t a Riot Grrrl, she wasn’t Liz Phair, though she would have excelled as those too. Instead, she turned left into the ether and created a sound all her own, which, decades, later still sounds fresh and innovative.

Opening was Sarah Lipstate, also known as Noveller. A one-woman phenom of guitar and pedal looping, Noveller produced powerful melodic sound waves of graceful intensity. 

1 / 15