I don’t get to see much indie rock much less local homegrown bands these days so when The Helio Sequence announced a show at Mississippi Studios in Portland, I got tickets before it was too late.
Quite expectedly, they sold out, as the two member band has a much broader audience (at least they should) than the 200 or so in attendance on Saturday but the favorite haunt for indie bands was also celebrating 15 years thus made sense to bring out a local favorite to celebrate.
I heard about The Helio Sequence probably 10 years ago around the time their big album Keep Your Eyes Ahead was released. Though no classification exists, I’d call them perhaps tender rock as they don’t drill you with heavy and hard chords but more melodic, maybe dreamy strokes with catchy sometimes repetitive chords. But indie or alternative rock sounds way cooler.
Brandon Summers leads on guitar and mic sounding a lot like Pet Shop Boys lead singer Neil Tennant minus the British accent while Benjamin Weikel plays drums. Weikel has an interesting style getting his entire body in rhythm while hitting the sticks. He seems naturally gifted and plays quite well. By the same accord, Summers has been on guitar since he was 12 and the two have developed quite the rapport in the last 20 years since the band’s inception.
The Helio Sequence don’t make an appearance often but have toured with such acts like The Church and Keane. (Remember them? They are coming next year, too.) The entire evening was a bit of a process, at least for those who want to ensure getting seats. Even in my prime I did not enjoy standing for three or four hours so grabbing seats becomes first priority when limited. This means, at Mississippi Studios, arriving early to get in line but how early is anyone’s guess. Thankfully they have a bar and restaurant so you can make it an evening, if you will, and then get in line as appropriate.
Therefore, after waiting more than an hour in line, the doors opened and seats easily attained, leaving another 45 minutes until show time. When I learned two opening bands were on the bill last week, I toyed with selling my tickets because of the late start, but even if I wanted to follow through I had no hard tickets. In fact, no hard tickets even existed as my will call tickets consisted of a stamp on the wrist. (You know some of us concert goers like collecting proof of who we have seen!)
The show started on time at 9 p.m. and, well, I’ll skip right through to 11 p.m. when The Helio Sequence finally took the stage. I can usually sit through opening bands just fine, even bad ones, but some sound issues and other factors left me wanting to leave and I briefly put away pen and paper and squashed any ideas of a review. Thankfully, The Helio Sequence proved a much more professional act and with just the two of them they put out quite the fusion.
Granted they trigger some audio and Weikel instructs a computer, set up behind him, for some of their electronics and other accompanying music, they sound like a full band and overall belong in a much larger setting. The intimate venue certainly gave those in attendance some fun memories as The Helio Sequence played 16 songs in about 75 minutes.
They played all their popular hits including “You Can’t Say No,” a solid rendition of “Keep Your Eyes Ahead,” of course the great “Lately” and evening closer “Hallelujah,” all off Keep Your Eyes Ahead. “October” was a great selection off 2012’s Negotiations as was “Hall of Mirrors” featuring some great interplay between Summers and Weikel. For “Upward Mobility,” a pensive track off their self-titled album from 2015, Summers admitted the two had to watch themselves on YouTube to figure out the instrumentation since it had been so long since they played it live. You’d never know, they nailed it.
Summers brought out his first owned guitar for the touching “December” after poking some fun at himself for having seven guitars on-hand despite promising himself, as a youngster, to never be one of those musicians with such an ample supply. And for those who relish saying “I was there!” they were treated to the band playing “The Harmonica Song” live, a busy opening cut off Love And Distance from 2004, for the first time ever without a harmonica. Summers confessed to forgetting the instrument and asked the audience if they still wanted to hear it without the piece also known as a mouth organ. Of course, he got a rousing “Yes” thus told the audience to sub in for the harmonica which they did with mixed results, but Summers and Weikel pulled it off without issue.
Understandably, The Helio Sequence holds fast to their core with Summers and Weikel writing and playing all the music both in studio and on stage. The two work well together and genuinely seem to enjoy playing and performing together. I have to wonder though if they brought on some touring musicians just how big of an act they might get.
The Helio Sequence Setlist at Mississippi Studios
- You Can’t So No
- Upward Mobility
- Battle Lines
- The Measure
- Hall of Mirrors
- Back to This
- You Can Come to Me
- Keep Your Eyes Ahead
- Downward Spiral
- The Harmonica Song