The Helio Sequence @ The Empty Bottle, Chicago 5/15/08
Though less than half of the year has passed, I can say that The Helio Sequence‘s Keep Your Eyes Ahead will most likely be one of my favorite albums of the year. I wasn’t too familiar with the band prior to this LP but this record definitely made me take notice of the band as a really strong rock group a la My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses. Upon more thorough listens the duo expands on the rock boundaries, using more generated beats and instrumental simulation than the aforementioned groups. Being just two, I was really interested to see if they could translate the sound from the album onto the stage. The Helio Sequence certainly reached the sound they committed themselves to in the studio and rocked the Empty Bottle good. Real good…
The live show lived up to the extents of the album, moving seamlessly from big rock songs to acoustic tunes, sometimes featuring a solo Brandon Summers serenading the crowd. Drummer Benjamin Weikel works through a laptop to produce most of the bass lines and some keyboard sounds setting a programed track off before the two get going on their live instruments. This sometimes took away from the two setting a solid groove but that’s not their style in the first place so it affects little.
The Helio Sequence is a duo that can sound like a band with five members and at different places in a show take on the best aspects of a duo; most notably, the ability to feed off the other’s energy more readily. The group hit on most of the album’s high spots and took some of their older tunes out for a spin to the delight of more versed fans. Summers has one of those voices that isn’t traditionally perfect but one that we wish we were all born with; no one trains to sound like Dylan or Mick Jager but not many would say their voices aren’t totally amazing in their own right.
The show started out with the heartbreaker “Lately,” which unfolds nicely and showcases Summers’ unique voice. Throughout the night the band played the crowd up and down working over lighter material here and there. Yet, most of the show displayed the bands abilities to really knock a well written rock song out of the park especially highlighted by Wiekel’s work on the drums.
The level of energy and enthusiasm put forth by Wiekel is amazing — he was in a full sweat throughout the last half of the show. He smiles like a kid who only wants to play and play loud, which I think becomes infectious for those watching. Its hard to tell from the lower vantage point of the photos but it helps a bit. To put it bluntly, he’s a monster.
Two songs stood out especially as both crowd favorites and ones that played really well in the live setting. “Hallelujah” is definitely my favorite tune on the album and the combination of the pulsing keys with Weikel’s rolling snare sets up Summers perfectly. The crowd went wild for the album’s title track and first single, “Keep Your Eyes Ahead.” This song is really great because it teeters on the brink of dance rock yet never full gives into the temptation. The Portland duo really stood out as an example of the strong state of rock music right now and helps to keep putting Sub Pop on the map as the leading label in the indie scene.
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