Though the Portland area duo has been playing together since 1996, and should be considered a fairly local band, I had only first heard of The Helio Sequence when Sasquatch announced their line-up for the 2012 music festival. I missed them at the Gorge, and I hadn’t truly thought of them again until about a month ago, when I saw in the Eugene Weekly that the band would be playing a show at the WOW Hall. I knew I couldn’t pass up another opportunity to see them live, especially in such an intimate venue with great sound and bouncing wood floors. Celebrating the release of their fifth album, Negotiations, The Helio Sequence turned me onto a sound I’ve been missing for the last seventeen years.
I walked in on the last song from Talkdemonic, the opening instrumental act also from Portland, Oregon. An orchestral bounty, featuring a keyboardist, viola player, drums and guitar, as if Lindsey Stirling had taken the reigns of Explosions in the Sky and made breakbeats. I should have been on time; I would have liked to see more.
The drug-taking in the crowd seems tangible, which is odd for such an ambient, nonparty atmosphere. Every member of the audience is in a trance by the time The Helio Sequence takes the stage. They burst into music, inspiring a starscape of white headlights and red taillights, set off by burning yellows and the cold blues of a dark sky. Each song has a rhythm that sways to the beat of a city after sunset. They are personal, and have a natural connection that is felt between the crowd and the stage. The melodies are nighttime rain on a car’s windshield, swiped clean by the faraway voice of vocalist Brandon Summers. He is unwaveringly smooth with his synthed out words, like creamy peanut butter sticking our feet to the dance floor. Fans bob along with limited body movement, though it is clear every person is affected by the sound as Benjamin Weikel loses himself on his drums. I love the harmonica’s cameo, and the constant echo of the lonely microphone.
It is easy to listen to music, but not always as easy to hear it. I found “The Measure” poignant and resonating, with the live lyrics, “so you want to know the difference/between the broken and the lost?” The band was asking me a question, and I’d be answering myself for the rest of the evening. The plooky backdrop of the title track, “Negotiations,” reminds me of my past residence in Portland, and walking home over the Broadway Bridge. It is the noise of the ripple effect in gathering puddles of water. “October” is so catchy, and a great lead in to ‘Can’t Say No,” from 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead.
Talkdemonic and The Helio Sequence are a Northwest delight, and I will not hesitate to appear for future live shows from either of these bands. I left impressed, and I left opened up. And the best part? Brandon Summers wore denim on denim.