Helio Sequence played a sold out show at The Triple Door on March 31, 2015. For those who expected their usual high energy performances, singer/guitarist Brandon Summers explained that they wanted to share an acoustic set they’d created for a previous gig. They’d been asked to play in an old church before, and the promoter at the time (oblivious to what their albums sounded like) had warned them that the space had very fragile old walls and stained glass windows. Summers said sheepishly that he and drummer Benjamin Weikel had accepted the gig before preparing any acoustic material, scrambling at the last minute. This involved drastic changes to many songs, including changing “Can’t Say No,” from 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead to drop-C tuning. As they started the song Tuesday night, they abruptly paused to re-tune. Summers said playfully into the mic, “That was the drop-C-sharp version.”
The band have a lovely, comfortable presence on stage. Weikel jammed away on the drums with a huge smile, keeping a steady but complicated beat. Summers’ vocals delivered beautiful, clear notes, while his banter between songs was soothing and familiar. The crowd hung on every word, charmed and laughing after each friendly joke. It was the perfect setting for the duo to share something special with their Seattle fan base – a large one since joining Sub Pop after 2004’s Love and Distance.
Their sixth full-length album The Helio Sequence is slated for release in mid-May, and they shared new songs, many of which exemplified their penchant for melancholic nostalgia. They debuted the acoustic version of “Stoic Resemblance,” joking that they didn’t even give the crowd a chance to learn the original. Many of their songs deal with loss and moving on, dipping into surreal states of mind to adjust to new truths. This new song explored that, with the chorus proclaiming, “Got my redemption and my release, now I can’t be bothered with reality.” So many of their songs are about the catharsis of reflecting on the past, when a little distance can give you a ton of perspective. “December” from 2012’s Negotiations does this so well. It was replicated beautifully live, as listeners took in the atmosphere at The Triple Door.
The crowd gasped as the venue’s quintessential starry night decorations came alive during the new song “Battle Lines,” and the scene made even more ethereal as a cellist named Samantha joined them for “All of These Things.” At the first notes of “Hall of Mirrors,” from Negotiations, the crowd started whooping and hollering. It’s clear that this is a band with a following. By the time they played their well-known single “Lately,” from 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead, the crowd screamed and applauded, singing along.
In keeping with the theme of newness, the band played a re-vamped version of “Harmonica Song” from Love and Distance, stripping it down to its elements. Summers admitted to the crowd that they’d never done it before. Gone were the high pitched spacey guitar solos and keyboard effects, replaced with bare bones drums from Weikel and a sole harmonica from Summers. The duo busted out a soulful, southern-fried jam, the crowd clapped along, and the deep simple notes reverberated throughout the room. People often joke that Oregon is the West Coast’s version of the South, and these Beaverton boys proved it Tuesday night.
But the highlight was when the band performed “Broken Afternoon,” a thoughtful, classic folk-style song. The levels in the room were perfect, every note ringing out as the crowd drank up Summers’ sobering lyrics. It’s the kind of seemingly light-footed tune that’s imbued with a passionate seriousness, an unexpected shifting from major to minor that catches the listener off-guard. It’s Dylan-esque without sounding too derivative, and for a moment every audience member shared the same misty-eyed trance. It’s the band’s versatility, their ability to rock out then sell out an acoustic show, that keeps fans coming back for more.